Angry Family Wants to Meet?? Meet!
I recently spoke with an attorney whose hospital is just beginning the journey to disclosure and apology. It was an important and very interesting conversation, including when the attorney shared that his hospital has taken the first steps by personalizing response letters to families. The attorney reported that families seem more likely to read these letters, and some families even request meetings...which, according to the attorney, can create panic. "What do we say? Should we meet? Let's go back to the old form letters nobody reads!"
Look, anytime a family – especially an angry family -- wants to meet, consider it a gift. I can't tell you how many times I have talked to risk managers and clinicians who are knee deep in litigation and they would absolutely treasure a chance to talk with the family, but the lawyers will never allow it. So, if an angry family wants to meet, meet!!
"But, Doug, what if they yell us? What if they threaten a big, fat lawsuit worth $100 million dollars, and exclaim that the hospital will be re-named after their injured family member? What if "the brother" at the end of the table is actually a lawyer? You know, the entire family has blond hair and blue eyes yet "the brother" has black, slicked back hair with dark beady eyes. And what if they secretly tape recording the conversation?"
Short answer: Meet! Let them yell...let'em scream and throw tissue boxes, if they must. Let them threaten a billion dollar lawsuit complete with naming rights to the hospital. Welcome "the brother" and encourage him to take notes, and just assume the whole affair is being recorded -- and all conversations are taped -- because smart phone technology allows easy yet secretive recordings.
You -- you! -- are going to listen, empathize, take good notes, ask appropriate questions, and promise a thorough review -- but not to admit to anything, yet. Admission and apology can come down the road if warranted. Today, we just meet. We listen and empathize.
Some families just need to get it off their chest, and that may be all they need. Many folks want their stories heard, and that may be it. Some have crazy ideas, while others have legitimate complaints with reasonable demands and it's good to hear it all on the front end because you can be pro-active. Remember this: If families don't meet with you, they may converse with an attorney, regulator, member of the media, or all the fools on social media. I would rather they meet with you. It's better for everyone.
As the meeting concludes, thank the family for sharing their story, review next steps and any commitments, and schedule a next meeting or conversation before concluding -- and then follow through on the next conversation.
Last thought: If you refuse to meet, the family may perceive a cover up is in the works, and you are unwittingly beginning to build the story line the PI lawyer will share with the jury one day: "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury...my client tried to share her concerns with the hospital, but they wouldn't even respond to her letter, e-mails, or seven --- seven! -- phone calls. The hospital is covering up their mistakes. How would you like it if a big hospital treated you that way?? You can teach the hospital a lesson..."
Doug Wojcieszak, Founder, Sorry Works!