My grandson’s favorite phrase is “I’m so sorry…” whenever he thinks he did something wrong. It’s cute and it is sincere, and it works. Customer service training, for more than 20 years that I am aware of, has taught people to apologize to a customer who complains, because “research” has shown that this is critical to the customer feeling better about their relationship with your company. Many companies resisted this approach at least because they felt that an apology was an admission of guilt.
As most lawyers will tell you, “I’m sorry” and “we are at fault or guilty” are not the same phrase, and using the legal excuse for not apologizing has gone by the wayside in most well-run, customer-oriented companies. The last bastion of failure to apologize is the medical community.
As all of our readers must know, the U.S. is in the midst of a great “debate” regarding healthcare reform. (No I am not going down that path.) One of the objectives for reform for some of the politicians was so-called “tort reform.” The purpose was to limit lawsuits by patients, many of which are apparently without merit, but which drive up the cost of medical care because doctors order tests to protect themselves from “Monday morning quarterbacking” or second-guessing their decisions if something goes wrong.
Some have wondered if a simple apology to a patient when something does not go as planned would have the same positive effect it has in other areas. Hospital lawyers have apparently been reluctant to find out based on the belief that an apology is an admission of guilt. Turns out apologies appear to work in the medical field as well.
The University of Michigan Health System is reported to have adopted a policy of apologizing in 2001. It reports that malpractice claims dropped by 50% from the 2001 level to 2006. The University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago started a similar program in 2006 and reports that malpractice claims have dropped by 40% despite an increase in clinical activity by 20%.
My three-year old grandson figured it out, what’s taking you so long?