If my oral surgeon apologized to me, I would have never pursued a lawsuit. However, after my husband called his office with the news that I was diagnosed at Stage IV, I never heard from him or his office again. No card, no flowers, no fruit basket, no words. I’m guessing he called his lawyer who said to him, ‘Don’t admit guilt.’ So, he said nothing. To me, this admitted more guilt than being human and taking just a little responsibility for the negligence, lack of current education, or whatever it is that left me with a late stage diagnosis.
The words, ‘I’m sorry,’ don’t have to carry a strong implication of guilt. The words can imply empathy rather than fault. Here is an apology script I would have liked to hear: “I’m sorry this happened to you. Your good health fooled us into thinking this couldn’t be anything serious. We have learned from this and will never let this happen to another patient. If there is anything we can do for you or the family, please let us know.”
According to the American Medical Association, all but 14 states have enacted legislation intended to encourage health care providers to apologize to patients by limiting the admissibility of these words in court. Let’s hope medical professionals take this advice because I’m convinced there would be fewer lawsuits and less hard feelings on both sides. Apologies can lead to open and frank dialogue that can relieve the responsibility in the heart of the medical professional and the angst in the heart of the victim.
Here is another perspective from Abigail Zuger, MD on the subject. Have you ever heard a medical professional apologize to you? Let’s hear the stories about those healthcare professionals who can and do apologize. After all, we are all human and make mistakes.