The difference between regret and apologies in health care

I’ve written recently that “I’m sorry” are the hardest words for doctors to say.

Good piece in The New York Times, observing that the health care industry, in general, has a hard time apologizing. In many cases, hospitals and drug companies simply state they “regret” the situation.

Is there a difference? Of course there is: “The difference between apologizing and simply offering a ‘regret’ may seem semantic. Yet some ethicists and analysts say that different words do, in fact, reflect divergent approaches to accountability.”

Indeed, simply regretting the situation skirts accountability.

Paul Levy, CEO of Boston’s Beth Israel-Deaconess hospital, is one of the leaders of the patient safety movement, using his blog to openly discuss medical errors and infection rates in order to improve patient care.

And he observes, to change doctors’ attitudes, it starts at the top with executive administration: “Once you have a few leaders do it and the world doesn’t end and, in fact, is made better, then people tend to follow.”