UMMS Affiliation

Meyers Primary Care Institute; School of Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Health Communication | Health Services Administration | Health Services Research | Patient Safety


Communication breakdowns among clinicians, patients, and family members can lead to medical errors, yet effective communication may prevent such mistakes. This investigation examined patients' and family members' experiences where they believed communication failures contributed to medical errors or where effective communication prevented a medical error ("close calls"). The study conducted a thematic analysis of open-ended responses to an online survey of patients' and family members' past experiences with medical errors or close calls. Of the 93 respondents, 56 (60%) provided stories of medical errors, and the remaining described close calls. Two predominant themes emerged in medical error stories that were attributed to health care providers-information inadequacy (eg, delayed, inaccurate) and not listening to or being dismissive of a patient's or family member's concerns. In stories of close calls, a patient's or family member's proactive communication (eg, being assertive, persistent) most often "saved the day." The findings highlight the importance of encouraging active patient/family involvement in a patient's medical care to prevent errors and of improving systems to provide meaningful information in a timely manner.


patient activation, patient engagement, patient safety, physician-patient communication, physician-patient relations

Rights and Permissions

Copyright © The Author(s) 2020. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

DOI of Published Version



Street RL Jr, Petrocelli JV, Amroze A, Bergelt C, Murphy M, Wieting JM, Mazor KM. How Communication "Failed" or "Saved the Day": Counterfactual Accounts of Medical Errors. J Patient Exp. 2020 Dec;7(6):1247-1254. doi: 10.1177/2374373520925270. Epub 2020 May 26. PMID: 33457572; PMCID: PMC7786716. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Journal of patient experience

Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed

PubMed ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License