To Sue or Not to Sue? Virtual Reality Evidence of Physicians’ Open versus Defensive Communication in Case of a Harmful Medical Incident

Lotte Daniels (Hasselt University)
Wim Marneffe (Hasselt University)
Samantha Bielen (Hasselt University)


Using real-life Virtual Reality (VR) videos in an experiment, we analyse how being more open about a medical incident towards the patient influences patient’s feelings and behavioural intentions. We showed economics, medicine, and physiotherapy students three VR videos in which a physician explains to a patient that there was a medical incident. Half of the participants sees the videos with open communication, while the other half sees the same videos (keeping constant physician nonverbal behaviour, what the patient says, clinical conditions, etc.) with defensive communication. The respondents are immersed in the real setting from the patient’s perspective by using a VR headset, which is a unique design in this research area. Patients exposed to open disclosure seem to be significantly more likely to take further steps, such as contacting a lawyer to discuss options and complaining to the hospital. They also have more feelings of blame against the physician. Surprisingly, they do not rate the physician or the incident severity differently. Communication skills are evaluated better, and they are not more likely to change physician.

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