Sorry Works!

Sorry Works! Blog

Making Disclosure A Reality For Healthcare Organizations 

Question from Road: Burned by Apology?


Just got a question from a doc during a recent road trip I couldn't wait to share with you. The doc wanted to know if she had been burned by apology?

The doc, who works in a hospital, had a patient who was the victim of a confirmed medical error, and the patient died. The doc did not commit the error, but, she had the relationship with family and "did the right thing" by working hard to keep open the lines of communication, culminating in a family meeting where our doc and the responsible parties apologized to the family. But the mother of the patient had a tape recorder in her purse! Everything was taped, now there's a lawsuit and everyone, including our doc, is named. Our doc wonders if she should feel burned and wonders what to tell fellow docs and nurses about apology?

The doc did say it was definitely a clear cut error and everyone expected a lawsuit anyway, but she feels violated for being taped, and wonders if she'll ever do another family meeting after an event OR - at the minimum - ask if anyone in the room is taping the conversation!

This story and the questions surrounding the story remind me of a news article a few years back where a doc apologized to a patient for a clear cut error and - get this - told the reporter that he hopes the patient sues! Huh?

Why do patients and families need to sue after an apology? Why should a lawsuit be expected after a clear cut error -- especially an error where an apology was given? This is a problem with the apology/disclosure movement...too many docs as well as risk managers, lawyers, etc think the only way a patient or family can receive compensation is through a lawsuit! My question back to our female doc was where was your risk and legal team? Why wasn't risk and legal there in the family meeting where the apology was offered to begin discussions of fairly and quickly settling the case? The doc replied the case should have been settled a long time ago. Exactly! But this is one of the major disconnects in disclosure today --- even if c-suite and docs agree with disclosure, too many risk/claims managers and their defense lawyers still like to dance with patients and families. It's wrong, and c-suite and medical staff need to put a stop to it, or get new risk/claims managers and also new defense lawyers!

The compensation piece should be part of the apology. Patients and families shouldn't have to go through a legal dance to be made financially whole.

Ultimately, what we need is hospitals, practices, and insurance companies to continue leading after an adverse event. We lead by quickly showing empathy and offering customer service in the immediate aftermath of event. We continue leading by quickly launching a credible investigation and staying in contact with patients and families during the investigation...we recommend touching base at least once a week by phone or e-mail (preferably both). And we lead by communicating the results of the investigation, which may include "We apologize for this mistake..." and then quickly discussing what constitutes fair and appropriate compensation, both monetary and non-monetary.

As to the issue of taping the meeting, who cares if the whole family is wired up - and the priest is wearing a wire too?!? When you apologize you should feel comfortable with anyone hearing your words: Patient, family member, priest/rabbi, lawyer, judge, jurors, members of the media, etc. To ask if anyone is taping the conversation suggests you are not being completely accurate or candid in your comments. When you apologize, there should be no secrets, and the truth is what sets everyone - including the docs - free.

In conclusion, you need to develop a disclosure program -- and Sorry Works! can help with presentations and training seminars. For more information, call 618-559-8168 or e-mail


- Doug

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