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Considerations With Patient Apologies - Attorney Advice

Question: One of my patients believes I aggravated a previous injury during a chiropractic adjustment. Should I apologize to him?

Answer: Malpractice defense attorney Victoria Vance explains that apologies should be approached thoughtfully and managed with the following in mind.

  1. Why should you apologize? Research shows that a properly managed communication and explanation to the patient about an outcome can reinforce a trusting relationship. It also reduces the risk of potential claims or litigation.
  1. What does the law allow? Some states permit statements of condolence, sympathy bereavement without it being brought into evidence. Other states, however, will allow what they deem “statements of fault” to be used against you.
  1. When should you apologize? The time to make a patient apology is when you have credible and well-informed information. Saying something too soon when your information is incomplete, inaccurate or may need to be retracted, is not helpful. It may even be viewed suspiciously by your patient.
  1. How should you apologize to the patient? Invite the patient and the patient’s family members to your office when you have time to listen to their concerns. Answer their questions honestly, but only with information you know is accurate. After the meeting, document the interaction.

Ms. Vance notes that patients or family members may wish to videotape or record the conversation. She advises you to feel comfortable in saying “yes” to being videotaped to show that you’re confident in what you’re going to say and having the conversation memorialized.

All in all, Ms. Vance observes there is a growing sense that offering a patient apology is the compassionate thing to do and may help avoid a malpractice allegation.

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