Should You Ever Apologize to a Patient?

When patient treatment doesn't go as planned, you may want to apologize. But could it be construed as an admission of guilt?

As a Naturopathic Doctor, one of the things your patients probably like best about you is your caring nature. So, it only makes sense that if a patient's care doesn't turn out as you'd hoped, your initial reaction may be to apologize. Interestingly, your sincere "I'm sorry" may help you avoid a lawsuit. 

Saying "I’m sorry" to a patient used to be a relatively novel concept. For decades, doctors had been advised to deny and defend whenever there was an allegation of malpractice. Clinical errors were addressed primarily through malpractice litigation where compensation was based on allocation of fault.

Today, many studies suggest that an apology might avert a lawsuit, especially if a patient is angry about an adverse outcome. In fact, many patients and their families expect at least an explanation after an injury or unanticipated event. Some states have even enacted laws to encourage—or in some cases mandate—that doctors disclose to their patients when treatment errors have occurred.

At the same time, doctors who wish to apologize should choose their words carefully. It’s important to express sympathy for the patient’s situation without admitting guilt.

So, what should you do? ND policyholders are encouraged to call our confidential Claims Advice Hotline to confidentially discuss a concern or situation they’re not sure how to handle—including whether to apologize to a patient.

We can talk you through the many issues and guide you toward the best approach for your individual situation. Your call will not result in our opening a claim file unless a request for damages has already been put in writing.

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