When patients suffer adverse events, apologizing is important

Patients who suffer adverse outcomes may file a complaint with the College. Their accounts often include allegations that the physician they hold responsible was unsympathetic, a belief only reinforced if the physician’s response includes no expression of regret for what happened.

The Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) and the CMPA both advocate expressed sympathy in such circumstances. Most Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, have enacted “apology” legislation that serves to promote apologies by prohibiting their use against physicians in civil actions. More information can be found here.  

College registrants are encouraged to review a recent CMPA advisory on how to manage disclosure when patients are harmed in the course of receiving health care. The advisory can be found here 

The Apology Act in British Columbia (2006) begins with this definition of an apology:

“An expression of sympathy or regret, a statement that one is sorry or any other words or actions indicating contrition or commiseration, whether or not the words or actions admit or imply an admission of fault in connection with the matter to which the words or actions relate.”

An apology stated at the bedside and, if necessary, in your response to the College, is simply the right thing to do. And it is protected in law. Physicians whose patients experience an adverse outcome may contact the CMPA or the College for advice.