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HomeminewsApology Etiquette Research Revealed

Apology Etiquette Research Revealed

Research from Edith Cowan University has shown patients respond better to a more detailed apology that focuses on them – rather than on the surgeon – in the event of an adverse medical event. However any apology was viewed more positively than negatively and even in the most minor cases, patients appreciate an apology.

Researchers asked 251 participants to respond to videos of a surgeon apologising to them for a surgery gone wrong.

It found that people responded most positively when the person apologising focussed their apology on the person they were apologising to instead of themselves.

Professor Alfred Allan from ECU’s School of Psychology and Social Science, who led the research, explained that people’s inherent self-centredness means apologies are likely to be focussed on what it meant for the apologiser.

“When we apologise we’re likely to focus on what it means for us,” he said. “For example the surgeon in this case might say ‘I’m really sorry about this, I wish it hadn’t happened’.”

“This research has shown that if we can empathise with the person we’re apologising to and explain that we understand what it means for them, then it’s likely to be a more effective apology.”

In the case of the surgeon apologising for an accident in surgery it might be something like: ‘I feel badly about the discomfort this has meant for you and the potential risks of the situation you were put in’.

Professor Allan said participants in the study found this apology more effective. “People thought the doctor making the apology focussing on the patient was more sorry and sincere than the doctor who focussed on himself,” he said.

Professor Allan said he hoped the research findings could be used to train medical practitioners how to better disclose, and apologise for adverse medical events. The research was published in the journal Patient Education and Counseling.