Apologies following an adverse medical event: The importance of focusing on the consumer's needs
Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science
School of Psychology and Social Science
Objective: The lack of a theoretical framework limits educators' ability to train health practitioners how to disclose, and apologise for adverse medical events. The multidimensional theory of apology proposes apologies consist of one or more components which can either be self-focused (focused on the apologiser's needs) or other-focused (focused on the needs of the consumer). We investigated whether the inclusion of other-focused elements in an apology enhanced its impact in a health setting. Methods: 251 participants responded to a video-recording of an actor portraying a surgeon apologising to a patient for an adverse event. In one condition the apology was exclusively self-focused and in the other it was both self and other-focused. Results: The self-focused apology was viewed more positively than negatively, but the apology that included additional other-focused elements elicited a more favourable reaction; it was seen as more sincere and as denoting more sorriness. Conclusion and practice implications: Practitioners can enhance the impact of their apologies by including other-focused elements, that is, demonstrate they understand the impact the event had on the consumers, express remorse for causing harm, and offer, or take action, to address the intangible harm caused.