Burned Vagina, Apology, and 50 Bucks?
According to recent media reports, a routine smear test for a New Zealand woman went horribly wrong after the pharmacy apparently failed to dilute the acetic acid, causing painful burns that took months to heal. The resolution: An apology and $50 bucks. The pharmacy is also apparently investigating what went wrong so it won't happen again, but, this appears to be a prime example of a hollow apology. The victim feels insulted. Links for media reports are below. I am not writing this column to shame the pharmacy. The media reports have already accomplished that task. My reason for this essay is to send a message to risk, claims, insurance, and legal professionals who work on these cases. The compensation piece is still a struggle for disclosure cases. Folks are OK saying sorry, but not OK paying money, or a fair amount of money. Yes, this is an extreme example but it's a great lesson too: For an apology to be real, it needs to meet the financial and emotional needs of the patient or family. Saying "sorry" is usually not enough. Words alone don't make the apology real for the victim...you need to do something! Moreover, for resolution to be truly complete, the emotional needs of the caregivers must be addressed too; I'm sure the pharmacy technician who failed to dilute the acid must feel horrible.
A great way to begin making an apology "real" is with a simple question: "How do we make this situation right by you? We are very sorry for our mistake. What do we need to do to meet your needs?" Then, shut up and listen. Let the patient talk, share their feelings, and what they might need. This is an honest and disarming question. Most victims are girding for a fight, so, when an organization makes this approach it literally lets the air (and anger) out of the room. In fact, most victims will have no idea how to respond...so you will have to be ready to offer suggestions, but make it fair! Just assume any settlement offer will be end up on social media or in traditional media, like this vagina story. Don't be offering 50 bucks for something you know to be worth much, much more.
As to this case, a fair resolution would have paid all medical bills, missed work (or used vacation/sick days), any other bills or financial burden experienced by the family because of the mistake, and provided reasonable consideration for pain & suffering. Moreover, the pharmacy would have shown the woman how their procedures have been fixed so the mistake will never happen again. And, finally, the apology would have been given in person by the pharmacy director and -- if possible -- the technician and staff involved in the mistake.
Hey, to help you design and develop a disclosure program that covers all the bases including fair compensation after a legitimate medical error, be sure to join Sorry Works! on Thursday, November 12th at 1pm ET/10am PT for a webinar on developing your disclosure program. Sorry Works! Founder Doug Wojcieszak will be teaching from the new Sorry Works! Tool Kit...and all attendees will receive a copy of the Tool Kit. Click here to register.