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Journal Articles PLoS ONE Year : 2017

Apology in cases of medical error disclosure


Background Disclosing medical errors is considered necessary by patients, ethicists, and health care professionals. Literature insists on the framing of this disclosure and describes the apology as appropriate and necessary. However, this policy seems difficult to put into practice. Few works have explored the function and meaning of the apology. Objective The aim of this study was to explore the role ascribed to apology in communication between healthcare professionals and patients when disclosing a medical error, and to discuss these findings using a linguistic and philosophical perspective. Methods Qualitative exploratory study, based on face-to-face semi-structured interviews, with seven physicians in a neonatal unit in France. Discourse analysis. Results Four themes emerged. Difference between apology in everyday life and in the medical encounter; place of the apology in the process of disclosure together with explanations, regrets, empathy and ways to avoid repeating the error; effects of the apology were to allow the patient-physician relationship undermined by the error, to be maintained, responsibility to be accepted, the first steps towards forgiveness to be taken, and a less hierarchical doctor-patient relationship to be created; ways of expressing apology (“I am sorry”) reflected regrets and empathy more than an explicit apology. Conclusion This study highlights how the act of apology can be seen as a “language act” as described by philosophers Austin and Searle, and how it functions as a technique for making amends following a wrongdoing and as an action undertaken in order that neither party should lose face, thus echoing the sociologist Goffmann’s interaction theory. This interpretation also accords with the views of Lazare, for whom the function of apology is a restoration of dignity after the humiliation of the error. This approach to the apology illustrates how meaning and impact of real-life language acts can be clarified by philosophical and sociological ideas.
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hal-04225138 , version 1 (02-10-2023)



Sonia Dahan, Dominique Ducard, Laurence Caeymaex. Apology in cases of medical error disclosure: Thoughts based on a preliminary study. PLoS ONE, 2017, 12 (7), pp.e0181854. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0181854⟩. ⟨hal-04225138⟩


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