Source: (2006) ExpressO.

Consider the apology: what an amazingly simple yet complex linguistic convention, particularly in the context of the practice of medicine. Through the words “I’m sorry,” a message is conveyed that can strengthen bonds of trust, can heal psychic wounds (and perhaps help heal physical wounds as well), or jeopardize a practitioner’s license. The apology poses real risks to its owner – the risk that its offer (and its implicit request for reconciliation) will be rejected and then used against its owner, perhaps in the context of a lawsuit based on a claim of medical malpractice. Those risks are well-known, to the doctor tempted to express regret, to the lawyer giving advice to the doctor, to the putative victim (and the victim’s legal counsel), and to the judges and juries appointed to determine whether there’s been a breach of duty warranting the imposition of damages. Given its complexity and its capacity to both do good and wreck havoc, it is probably not surprising that the apology has been given substantial attention in a host of academic and professional venues. In the context of the practice of medicine, it has been thoroughly studied, by risk managers, by judicial interest groups, by legislators, and by the trial bar, to name but a few stakeholders having an interest in its use and abuse. Notably, within the past twenty years there has been a highly focused, well-informed debate about the efficacy of apologies in the context of the practice of medicine. Doctors, after all, are human and with their humanity comes the innate ability to make mistakes. Those mistakes result in the full spectrum of adverse consequences, and as a society we’re used to having access to systems that will help restore us if we’ve been injured as the result of someone else’s mistake. (Excerpt)