I’ve been struck the last couple of days in the myriad of opportunities to say I’m sorry. There seems to be an unspoken rule, fed by fear, that this phrase is forbidden in healthcare; it implies admitting fault to the quality of the clinical care and opening oneself up to a lawsuit. It seems to be the same as saying, “Sue me.”
But it’s not the same. Over and over I see opportunities to listen to the many ways healthcare has impacted someone’s life, and to simply offer an apology for the parts of their experience that could have been improved with more information, more compassion, or simply less noise.
Healthcare workers are put in situations day in and day out that require an inhuman ability to make the right decisions and follow protocol, perfectly. While we automate and mistake proof (poka-yoke) as much as we possibly can as in the case with bar code medication administration, the fact remains: where there are humans giving care there will be mistakes in care.
The crucial moment comes after the mistake is made. Are we able to listen, apologize, and do what we can to help heal the hurt we’ve caused or do we turn a blind eye and continue on? How we answer that question changes everything.
An apology heals. Honesty heals. Transparency Heals.
Apologizing does not necessarily mean agreeing with or admitting one side is right or wrong. It’s an acknowledgement of their suffering and a demonstration of our empathy. Lisa Goodman Hefland argues the future of healthcare rests on the ability to humanize our interactions in this way:
Many will argue that the future of medicine hinges on innovative technology and propelling scientific research forward. While I agree these are critical elements, I maintain that in our new digital world, we can’t discredit the role that humanity and empathy play in medicine. It’s an arduous task to balance the benefits of innovation with the heart of medicine. To me, the future of medicine rests on the ability of medical professionals to see patients as people, not data. Only then, can we begin to change the culture of medicine and cultivate an environment where medical error is acknowledged and examined, protocols are changed, and apologies are made.
The more we learn to say these two simple words and improve the culture, systems and processes that contributed to the situation the more we will be impacting the well being of the lives we serve.
Have you had an opportunity to say I’m sorry lately? Tell me about it below!