Saying “sorry” is the human thing to do. Doctors and nurses should say it when they feel it.
Saying “sorry” seems to have two meanings: 1) something bad happened and I understand your emotions 2) something bad happened and I had some connection with the event for which I feel partly responsible. Bad things do happen in health care but “sorry” is a very uncommon utterance for health care providers.
Dr. Abigail Zuger writing in the New York Times 7/14/14 “Saying Sorry, but for What?” compared how she felt about a plumber who broke a valve in her house with medical personnel who broke other things — neither said “sorry.” Sorry truly does not fix anything; but, the absence of “sorry” is infuriating.
The problem is ego. Ego infuses some health care providers with the notion bad things are an act of God but good things are an act of ME. Absence of “sorry” is a sure sign of defense (a defense of self). Perhaps the health care provider was spanked as a child or yelled at by teachers. Who knows … ego has gone wild.
Quality health care depends on people believing errors are due to system failures. When providers fail to embrace that philosophy they fail to correct problems. No failure, no correction.
A fall in the hospital can be deadly. Recently, a family member fell in a room while no nurse was present and they died. The nurse did not say “sorry.” There was no acknowledgement of responsibility. No acknowledgement the system was at fault, no realization there was a better way, and no reason to prevent future deaths. The simple statement “sorry, I wish I had been there to stop the fall, we will investigate this to help others” would be the right thing to say, and believe.
Lawyers are not the cause of excessive health care ego. However, lawyers with the threat of suit are a convenient excuse. When bad things happen honesty and caring are much more likely to assuage the displeasure of a family than stonewalling.