Sorry Works! Disclosure Tip: Only Apologize for Known Errors
I have heard some variation of the following countless times, usually from defense lawyers: "I don't want some doctor apologizing and admitting fault at 2am in the morning when it was just a known complication or nothing we could have prevented!" I agree completely.....100%.
We only apologize and admit fault AFTER a review has proven a mistake or error. We don't go off hunches, rumors, or even educated guesses. We don't blurt out something because we think it's what the family wants to hear. We wait for the review to be complete. No exceptions. Instead, we focus on empathy, addressing immediate medical needs, and taking care of the immediate needs of the family: "Mrs. Smith, we're sorry this happened...we will be doing a review to learn what happened and begin reporting back to you at 3pm tomorrow afternoon. We have your husband stabilized and he is safe....how can we help you right now? Do you need help with food, transportation, phone calls, or lodging? Do you need a minister or counselor? Here is my business card with my cell phone number. Feel free to call anytime. Again, I'm sorry this happened, and we will get through this together."
That's empathy...that's showing you care and are staying connected, but nothing more. We wait for the review and work the process. This is not only for the benefit of the provider or hospital, but also the patient and family...because once consumers hear words like "error" or "malpractice" or "Doctor Jones screwed up" they will never believe otherwise - even if the review shows a known complication - and will literally go crazy in the process.
Now, what if's a wrong-side surgery, where even the family can see you screwed up? A little different statement to the family, but again we are going to wait for a review: "Mrs. Smith, we were supposed to operate on your husband's left knee, but, instead operated on his right knee. I am sorry for this mistake, and we are conducting a review to learn how this happened. We will begin reporting back to you at 3pm afternoon with our findings...."
So, empathy 100% of the time after something goes wrong, and we wait for the review and work the process. This message needs to be trained into your front-line staff and new hires. The Little Book of Empathy is a great teaching tool for front-line docs and nurses....we've sold thousands of copies of this book around the country as a hardcopy and as an e-book through Amazon. This quick read (15 minutes or less) is the way to teach your staff how to empathize and stay connected post-event without prematurely admitting fault. Get your copy today.
Finally, a follow up to yesterday's disclosure tip on exchanging contact information. A friendly PI Lawyer wrote in to say that so often his clients tell him that everything was a "blur" post-event and they often have trouble remembering names, faces, who to call, and how to get a hold of people, which heightens apprehension and even paranoia. So, he applauded the emphasis on exchanging contact information, including giving the family a business card with your cell phone number but not waiting for them to contact you. Stay in touch with patients/families on a regular basis post-event, reach out, and try to help the family get through the situation.