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Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

IDEA: Interviewing Patients-Families During Investigation


February 7, 2012 Doug Wojcieszak, Founder & Spokesperson Contact phone/e-mail address: 618-559-8168;

IDEA: Interviewing Patients-Families During Investigation I recently received an e-mail a family member whose loved one suffered an adverse event, the hospital disclosed and promised an investigation, the investigation was performed, and then the hospital reported the standard of care was NOT breached. There was no error. However, the man didn't believe the hospital. Why not? Because he was never interviewed during the investigation phase. The man had never heard of an investigation that didn't involve interviewing the person/the people making the complaint. In his eyes, the investigation was a sham.

Interesting point.

I can imagine most medical, risk, and insurance professionals would counter that the investigative phase is for evaluating the medicine at the heart of the adverse event....stuff that really doesn't involve patients and families. Or does it?

Remember, at Sorry Works! we like to say med-mal is not always about medicine and the's really about customer service. In fact, by taking med-mal out of a medical-legal context and putting it into a customer service framework, we change the rules of the game and create a situation where doctors, nurses, patients, and families are more likely to reach position resolutions post-event.

In the customer service context, one of the most important things to do is stay connected with patients and families post-event. Stay in the game with them! Taking time to interview a patient or family member is a way to stay connected post-event. We also advise touching base at least once a week with the patient/family during the investigation process, even if you have nothing new to report. Stay connected! See how they are doing and if there are any other ways you can assist them during a very trying time.

Also, in the customer service framework, resolutions to problems have to be perceived as fair and just by the injured party. At Sorry Works! we have always stressed that making the investigation phase credible and believable is key to the long-term success and viability of your disclosure program. Your investigation must be absolutely credible, especially if you are going to report back to the patient/family the adverse event was NOT caused by an error. We always advise involving outside experts so you don't look like you are grading your own papers. We want to make sure the investigation passes the smell test with patient, family, and plaintiff's attorneys. Now include interviewing the patient/family as a way to add credibility to the investigation process. Hey, the family member is right....most investigations in the real world do involve interviewing all witnesses and players. Why should a medical investigation be any different?

And you might be surprised....while they may not have MDs or RNs behind their names, patients and families may provide important insight and information that may help your investigation. You might learn things you wouldn't otherwise know by talking to a patient or family member....stuff that might even exonerate your colleague!

Moreover, I think interviewing patients and families is an important part of empathy. By taking the time to sit down and get the patient/family side of the story, you are sending an important message that their complaint is being taken seriously....and for many people that simple act of acknowledgment may be all they need! Validation is key! Acknowledge the hurt, listen, and include them in the process.

Now,this won't work with every patient or family. Just like you won't be able to stay in contact with every patient or family during the investigation phase (because some won't answer your phone calls or e-mails because they are so angry), you won't be able to interview every family. But try...and document it.

Finally, speaking of the patient/family perspective, remember to register for our upcoming webinar on Five-Star Customer Service from the Family Perspective. Led by Sorry Works! Founder Doug Wojcieszak, this webinar will offer a unique perspective on your hospital, practice, or long-term care facility. March 15th is the date for the webinar, and here is the link to register: , and here is a link to learn more about the webinar: .


- Doug

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