Written to the song: Tempo — Lizzo ft. Missy Elliott

“Apology is only egotism wrong side out.” — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

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Quebec City, Quebec.

We are taught to apologize when we do something wrong. Although there are cases where individuals feel that they cannot apologize for their wrong-doings. A new report came out saying that errors that doctors make cost the province of Ontario 1 billion dollars per year (Goldman, 2019). Surprisingly, when a doctor makes a medical error, such as prescribing the wrong amount of medication or performing the wrong medical procedure, they aren’t necessarily supposed to apologize. Why?

Medical errors happen and can be extremely dangerous, causing a prolonged hospital stay and in some cases — death. The reasons why some doctors are counseled to not allowed apologize is due to lawsuits. If someone apologizes, they technically admit that they did the wrong-doing, which doctors are afraid could be used in court. Whereas if no statement is made, the doctor can defend his or her actions. But this lack of apology angers patients who just want a simple apology for their wrongdoings.

Do apologies actually make a difference? Turns out they do! CNN reports that when doctors take the blame and explain the situation, patients and their families are less likely to sue, as they are seeking an explanation rather than lies (Cohen, 2016). With these facts, many hospitals have been moving away from the “deny and defend” and have been focusing on “acknowledge and apologize”. This allows patients to talk out their frustration and settle with a medical lawyer rather than deal with the issue in court, which is highly costly and emotional.

What’s the solution to this costly problem? Something called an “I’m Sorry” law (Ho in Dubner & Rosalsky, 2018). This law states that if a doctor apologizes then this apology cannot be used in court against them. This gives doctors the ability to apologize for their malpractice, without necessarily taking the blame. Our words make an impact, and in some cases have the ability to influence the results of a court case.

Read more about the law in Ontario here: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/09a03


Cohen, E. (2019). When a surgeon should just say ‘I’m sorry’. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2016/03/24/health/surgeons-im-sorry/index.html

Dubner, S. & Rosalsky, G. (Producer). (2018). How to Optimize Your Apology. Freakonomics, Chicago, IL.

The harm to hospitalized patients cost Ontarians more than $1B a year: study | CBC Radio. (2019). Retrieved 26 August 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/medical-errors-in-cases-of-hospitalized-patients-cost-ontarians-more-than-1b-a-year-study-1.5243458

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/

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