Why Can’t Doctors Say They Are Sorry?

Why Can’t Doctors Say They Are Sorry?

Natasha Singer, in her  recent New York’s Times opinion piece suggests that saying you’re sorry is difficult in the health care industry. Indeed, her article addresses the pharmaceutical industry as well.  It is interesting that this issue requires any discussion. We all learned as children the importance of apology in making right a harm resulting from our wrongful conduct. Moreover, that there might be adverse consequences associated with admitting wrongdoing was to be expected and was not ever deemed a justification for remaining silent.

It is remarkable that silence as a substitute for apology has become a standard of conduct for healthcare providers. They argue that if they apply to this that someone might try to hold them accountable for their conduct. In other words unlike what their parents  told them as children, healthcare providers, who once knew that apology was the ethical and proper thing to do have come to believe that silence and obfuscation represent the ethical thing to do.

Remarkably, as pointed out by Singer, those medical centers such as the University of Michigan health Center have discovered honest apology makes they are victims feel good and reduces malpractice claims. The Michigan experience has been duplicated elsewhere. Honesty is not only the right thing to do but also represents a sound business practice.

One has to look elsewhere for the origin of the “conspiracy of silence” than fear of consequence.  Arrogance is a better explanation.

What do you think?

3 responses to “Why Can’t Doctors Say They Are Sorry?”

  1. Don’t you think this is just a little bit harsh?

    • Yes, it is harsh and perhaps I should have been more sensitive. Let’s look again for a reason. A doctor or other health care provider makes a mistake that hurts a patient badly. The doctor neither admits the mistake or explains honestly how the injury happened. It is clear that doctors don’t like admitting when they are wrong. Who does? The question is how they justify the mental gymnastics and conclusion that their silence is the right thing to do.

      Thanks for your comment.

  2. Christine says:

    Having just had an incident involving a small forgetful act by my endocrinologist, I am changing my physician. An apology for wasting my time and making me have to get my blood drawn a second time would have kept my business. Lets not fool ourselves into thinking that the medical professionals aren’t in the business of keeping patients. This small incident makes me feel that if the situation were more dire, he may “forget” something that would cause greater harm.

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