Expression of Empathy After Complications Occur

In an attempt to protect physicians who acknowledge and apologize for unintended consequences or undesired outcomes, legislation has been written to encourage physicians to acknowledge and apologize for iatrogenic injury without the threat that the apology will be used as evidence in court. The requirements to qualify for the protections of such statutes vary from state to state.

Some legislation requires the apology be made within certain time limits; other laws require that the apology be made in a meeting specifically designed for that purpose. Understanding whether your state has legislation that addresses this topic and knowing the specific parameters of the law is an important first step to deciding how to respond to iatrogenic injury.

Whether your state has physician apology legislation or not, remember that it is generally not only acceptable but wise to be empathetic with your patients. Expressing sorrow for the fact that the patient is experiencing a complication or unwanted outcome is not the same as an admission of fault. “I am sorry you had bleeding” is not the same as “I can’t believe I failed to order Coumadin withheld prior to your surgery.”

When in doubt, erring on the side of saying nothing may be better from a liability standpoint. Consultation with legal counsel may help you better understand the legal repercussions of your statements to patients and their families. Counsel can assist you to develop a sound strategy for moving forward empathetically in your physician-patient relationship.

Would you like the information on this web page in a printable form? If so, click here to view the Expression of Empathy After Complications Occur PDF document.