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Should she apologize? How much detail should she share about the mistake? Would a frank discussion put the hospital at risk of a lawsuit?

“I had never really been in that situation before,” said O’Brien, recalling the 2004 incident. She decided to tell the patient’s family about the error, bracing herself to face their anger. While the family was stricken by grief, they appreciated her honesty.

“I spent a lot of time with the patient’s family supporting them and explaining what had happened, and yet I felt so unsupported in that experience,” said O’Brien, a physician at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.

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