Apologies and medical error

Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2009 Feb;467(2):376-82. doi: 10.1007/s11999-008-0580-1. Epub 2008 Oct 30.


One way in which physicians can respond to a medical error is to apologize. Apologies--statements that acknowledge an error and its consequences, take responsibility, and communicate regret for having caused harm--can decrease blame, decrease anger, increase trust, and improve relationships. Importantly, apologies also have the potential to decrease the risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit and can help settle claims by patients. Patients indicate they want and expect explanations and apologies after medical errors and physicians indicate they want to apologize. However, in practice, physicians tend to provide minimal information to patients after medical errors and infrequently offer complete apologies. Although fears about potential litigation are the most commonly cited barrier to apologizing after medical error, the link between litigation risk and the practice of disclosure and apology is tenuous. Other barriers might include the culture of medicine and the inherent psychological difficulties in facing one's mistakes and apologizing for them. Despite these barriers, incorporating apology into conversations between physicians and patients can address the needs of both parties and can play a role in the effective resolution of disputes related to medical error.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Disclosure
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors* / psychology
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Self Concept