Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Involving Families After the Apology

There was an interesting article published recently in Health Leaders Media about involving families in hospital safety efforts after they received an apology for a medical error.  The initial focus of the article was Dr. Adams Dudley, MD, from University of California-San Francisco Hospital who wants to make such family members part of the hospital's team after they receive an apology.  Here's a Dr. Dudley quote from the article which summarizes his thinking: What if, when someone is harmed in our hospitals, we say not only, 'we're sorry you were harmed', but 'here's a badge. Now you're part of our team. Now, if you choose, you can be a patient advocate, come to our staff meetings, talk about what happened, [and] attend patient safety conferences. We'll e-mail you the meeting schedule'  We want you to help tell us how we can prevent this from happening to someone else, he says.

But, then, unfortunately, the article goes on to - surprisingly - quote disclosure advocate Rick Boothman of the University of Michigan Health System that Dudley's plan is unworkable because clinicians won't be honest if angry patients and families are in the room.

I think Dudley and Bootman were talking about two entirely different topics, and shame on the author of this article for not parsing out the differences for her readers.  Great topic but the author totally blew it.  Dr. Dudley is talking about involving a family after their own case has been closed and settled, whereas I think Boothman is saying that families who have just experienced harm are not in a position - emotionally or otherwise - to contribute to the patient safety efforts of a hospital. I totally agree with Boothman's concerns, but I also don't think the author of this article correctly described for Boothman what Dr. Dudley is proposing.   What Dudley wants to do is already happening (or has happened) successfully in other hospitals, including with Sorry Works! Founder Doug Wojcieszak.   Patients and families who have experienced malpractice but received disclosure and apology can be in a great position to become part of the hospital's safety team.  These folks can provide an incredibly important perspective for clinicians.  This was my own experience with Catholic Health Partners of Cincinnati.

As disclosure continues to take root, I strongly encourage hospital administrators to really work to get to know the patients and families going through the disclosure process.  You will find many people who can help your organizations get better.  Now, not every patient or family member is right for such work, but many are.   A powerful example of this is Leilani Schweitzer who works with Children's Hospital of Stanford University after losing her son to medical errors at the hospital.

Here is the link for the Health Leaders Media Article:

Here is the link describing my experience working with Catholic Health Partners of Cincinnati:

And here is the link with Leilani Schweitzer sharing her story:


Hey, Fall is right around the corner and you are surely thinking about Grand Rounds speakers for your staff.  The Sorry Works! presentation is a great talk for your doctors and nurses.  Call 618-559-8168 or e-mail for more information.