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Apologies, Empathy and Tone


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Genuine apology

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality (the Commission) in Health Care’s Open Disclosure Framework: Guide to apologising and expressing regret during open disclosure states is an important step in restoring patient trust in clinicians and the healthcare system. 

The Commission is clear that an apology and expression of regret must contain the word sorry. This is not necessarily an acceptance of responsibility, although it can be. And an expression of regret is purely and expression of sorrow. Taking the time to write a genuine apology serves to create opportunities for service recovery and resolution so avoid hastily written responses as they can be perceived as insincere, inflaming a situation unnecessarily.

So take your time, taking inspiration from the examples below.

Multiple bed changes (Crit 3)

Poor communication after cancer diagnosis (Crit 3)

Breast cancer reconstructive surgery (Crit 3)

Terrible handling of transferred patient (Crit 5)

Taking a conversational tone/using emotive words

We cannot draw on body language, intonation and facial expression in written responses and there are times when what we mean to convey is not the message that is received. Using a conversational tone with emotive words such as ‘thrilled, excited, dismayed or alarmed’ speak much louder than ‘pleased or concerned’. This is a powerful tool that provides the intonation missing from the written word.

Busselton Hospital (Crit 0)

Exceptional care during our birthing experience (Crit 0)

Cognitive therapy success (Crit 0)

Compliment & Complaint (Crit 3)

Vascular surgery adventure (Crit 0)

Speaking with empathy

Empathy is defined as ''the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another'.

A quick tip is to focus on the person reading the response, imagining their reaction. Reading your response often helps here - if you wouldn't say it to a person's face during the open disclosure process, grab your red pen and have another go. This is what empathy has looked like in some of the responses posted on our site.

Emergency care received (Crit 0)

Restless nights (Crit 2)

Disrespectful midwife (Crit 3)

Medical imaging patient care (Crit 3)

My parent's VAD request (Crit 4)