Why Can’t Doctors Say They Are Sorry?

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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.

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