The Apology Peace Process in Health Care


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Companies that are beloved don’t take apologizing as admitting defeat. It’s part of the journey toward becoming a better company. When done well, an apology strengthens the bond between customer and company.

The apology peace process is beginning to be delivered in groundbreaking ways in the health care industry. After years of asking doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to avoid apologizing to patients for fear of malpractice suits, this industry is learning to suspend its fear and cynicism. Withholding an explanation and apology to patients and/or families is being replaced with empathetic and open communication. With counterintuitive, nonzero sum results. Nobody loses. This change has been impacted through the efforts of a coalition called Sorry Works!, which was founded by Doug Wojcieszak after his family lost his oldest brother due to medical errors. Following their personal tragedy, what Wojcieszak and his family really wanted was a human connection, to feel some caring for what they went through. They sought an apology and an open explanation about what happened. But when that did not materialize; the Wojcieszak family took their less preferable legal route, suing the hospital and doctors to get answers. Out of his personal experience, to urge healthcare providers to rethink their prevailing non-compassionate approach, Wojcieszak began the Sorry Works! Coalition.

Sorry Works! fosters a process which encourages transparency, a swift and caring explanation, and when appropriate, a heartfelt apology for patients and their families. The process establishes middle ground where fewer lawsuits occur for doctors and no constitutional infringements occur for patients and lawyers. The open communication that results yields a reduction in medical errors, as true empathetic and compassionate listening and conversation take the place of legal protocol.

One early adopter of Sorry Works!, the University of Michigan Hospital has experienced a steady decline in its claims and pending lawsuits after adopting the “Sorry Works!” process. Claims dropped dramatically, as did average legal expense and case processing time. When companies and customers are able to shelve litigious approaches for straight talk and caring, surprising results occur. In the ultimate zero-sum game of “winner takes it all,” companies and customers who previously fought it out in court much prefer to talk about it over coffee.

Aaron Lazare, author of “On Apology,” says, “The apology is a powerful and constructive form of conflict resolution, embedded, in modified form, in religion and the judicial system. It is a method of social hearing that has grown in importance as our way of living together on our planet undergoes radical change.”

Moral of the story: A good apology trumps the legal system. As long as the apology is sincere and the effort to make amends is genuine. People prefer the human connection of the apology. The closure is more complete when genuine remorse and as effort to do the right thing is delivered.

Suspend the fear and we're sorry

  • Are you able to table the “corporate” response and deliver one that connects on a personal level?
  • Can you suspend the fear and talk openly and honestly with your customers?

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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