Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 


September 30, 2011Doug Wojcieszak, Founder Contact phone/e-mail address: 618-559-8168;


September has been a heavy travel month...I've been all around the country, and now I'm home relaxing! Lots of great audiences in many different venues, but, I am troubled by this comment I received in several places:

"You know, Doug, this sorry stuff is great. We had a case where we said "sorry" to the patient/family, and then we never heard from them again...and the statutes have passed, so we will never hear from them again! It worked!

I am troubled because the sentiment of the statement gives the impression the hospital/practice/long-term care facility knows they did wrong & caused harm, BUT they got away with paying $0 because a little empathy mollified the patient or family. And this is actually a long-running problem in the disclosure wanting to apologize for a mistake but not wanting to pay anything! Folks, that's not an apology! It's not ethical! It's not Sorry Works! Clearly, we need to do better...much better!

Let's be clear: If you breached the standard of care and caused harm, you need to try to make amends with the patient/family. Now, yes, there will be patients/families who simply need your acknowledgment and nothing matter how hard you try to offer something. And, no, it doesn't always have to be a check. Many other ways we can take care of our patients and families such as customer service items (food, transport, lodging, etc) and emotional support, including counseling and also involving the patient and family in your safety/quality efforts....even bringing the family back to talk to your staff! Lots you can do --- but you must reach out and do it. Be a leader....not a wimp who meekly says "sorry" and then hides under your desk and hopes the family never comes back. If you really hurt somebody and the injured party is looking at missed time from work, additional medical expenses, lost family/leisure time, or worse (a death!), you need to make an honest to goodness effort to do right by the injured party. We're talking about the integrity of your hospital, practice, or long-term care facility!

I'm passionate about this topic for two reasons:

1) Sometimes patients and families have needs, but they don't know you can help. Sometimes patients/families don't even recognize their needs! You need to reach out;

2) Your credibility as an organization is so important, especially when it comes to avoiding non-meritorious litigation! You know, non-meritorious litigation - or "frivolous lawsuits" as they are sometimes wrongly called - is one of the biggest cost factors in med-mal. But our problem is no one believes a hospital, practice, or long-term care facility when they say "We didn't do it!" All those years of deny and defend have literally shredded the collective reputation of the medical community. But, doing right by our patients and families with disclosure -- even when empathy might mollify them - is how you win back your reputation. Paying something on a case where you might not have to (because of empathy mollifying the customer) is an investment in your integrity. Go the extra mile with a patient/family and earn back your integrity....the integrity that will pay dividends on a day when "you didn't do it."

I want to be clear: I am NOT suggesting we make payments on cases where the standard of care was NOT breached. We can do service recovery/customer service with these folks, but not settle such cases. I am strictly referring to cases where the standard of care was breached and the patient/family doesn't know their needs, doesn't know you can help, and/or empathy might mollify them.

Taking care of injured patients/families needs to be part of your disclosure program. You need to have it figured out ahead of time. What is your process? Your procedure? Have a plan in place for what happens after empathy and what happens after the investigation shows you made a mistake. For help developing your disclosure program, consider hosting a Sorry Works! presentation at your next Grand Rounds, leadership retreat, staff meeting, or conference. Call 618-559-8168 or e-mail for more information!


- Doug

Doug Wojcieszak, Founder Sorry Works! PO Box 531 Glen Carbon, IL 62034 618-559-8168 (direct dial)