Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Better Patient Accountability Documents?

We’re starting to hear more and more examples of doctors asking – sometimes demanding – new patients & families read and sign documents promising not to file frivolous lawsuits, agreeing to arbitration, etc. A year ago a close friend came home with one of these documents asking her upfront to agree to arbitration should anything go wrong. I told her to throw the stupid thing away, and if the practice pushed the issue to leave and find another physician.

In some ways these documents remind me of the signs hanging next to county fair rides: “We assume no liability for any injuries or death.” Yeah, right. Any good lawyer (defense or plaintiffs) will tell you the carnie signs are legally worthless, and so are these documents peddled and pushed by physicians and their staff. Furthermore, these documents risk alienating patients and families, and getting relationships off on the wrong foot.

This is a shame, because I think we’re missing a real opportunity here for both doctors and patients/families to start and create strong relationships rooted in mutual trust and respect. Read my attempt an accountability document below – and I welcome your comments.
“I want to be your physician. I want to enter in a relationship with you built on trust and respect whereby we become teammates working together to improve your health.

As your physician, I will always strive to provide you with the best care possible. I will always be an active listener so I can understand your problems and concerns, and I will always provide treatments and recommendations that I believe are in your best interest. Furthermore, you are always welcome to obtain a second opinion, because I always want to make sure we are doing right by you.

Though rare, medical errors do happen. If there is ever a problem or potential medical error, I will remain committed to you and our relationship. I will empathize and take care of your immediate needs, and then investigate to learn what happened. If necessary, I will apologize for errors and be committed to seeing that all of your needs, medical and otherwise, are met. I will never engage in a frivolous defense or cover up. You deserve the truth from me at all times.

As the patient, you must be equally committed to our relationship. Please keep your appointments with me, but, if you must cancel an appointment, please give my office staff as much advance warning as possible so we can give your time slot to another patient.

Before arriving for a visit, please take time to consider and write down any questions or concerns so you can share them with me in an efficient manner. If you have an especially long list of questions/concerns, you may consider talking to my staff to schedule a second appointment so I can give you the appropriate amount of time.

If necessary, you may consider bringing a friend or family member to visits to help you understand my diagnoses and recommendations. Two heads are always better than one!

Please follow my advice. If you have questions or concerns about my advice, please tell me or my staff, and, again, you are always welcome to obtain a second opinion. But, silence helps nobody.

Please fill my prescriptions and follow the directions given to you by the pharmacist. If you have questions or concerns about my prescriptions – including inability to pay – please let me or my staff know. We understand drugs costs can sometimes be very high, but there are many ways we can help with samples, coupons, or, perhaps, a different prescription. But, silence helps nobody.

When in doubt about anything, call my office or the exchange, no matter what time of day or night. We were would rather hear about a non-issue then never hear about a real problem….let us make the determination. That is how we serve you. Again, silence helps nobody.

If there is a problem or possible medical error, I want you to remain committed to our relationship. Please come back to me and my staff. It’s OK to be angry and upset, but please come back to me and my office to see if we can fix your problems or address any concerns. Again, silence or non-communication helps nobody.

This is our partnership, this is our pact. We will work together through good and bad with the permanent goal of improving your health. Let’s be teammates.

Signed Doctor X and Patient Y.”

How that’s for a patient accountability document? I think such a document is credible, believable, and a potentially great way to kick off a relationship with a patient and family. There is nothing threatening, offensive or intimidating in there….just lots of encouraging stuff that are actually very beneficial to relationship building. Remember, lack of relationships as well as breakdown of relationships are the top reasons docs get sued!! I would encourage physicians to spend five minutes reading and reviewing this document with every new patient and family, and get people to sign it. Give us your comments and feedback!
Finally, there is still time to register for our Sorry Works! Training class on March 22nd in Los Angeles hosted by the Hospital Association of Southern California. Here is the registration link: .


– Doug

GeneralJames Harper