The Surprising Benefits of "I'm Sorry" for Your Practice

Posted on Feb 27, 2018 by Lori Boyer

Patient satisfaction and patient retention rates are fallingHave you noticed? Patients seem to be just a bit pickier these days than they were in the past. Don't worry. You’re not alone. These days patient retention is on everyone’s mind. Practices are losing patients at an alarming rate. In fact, patient retention has become such a hot button issue that Solutionreach recently commissioned the Patient-Provider Relationship Study, which examines this dynamic across generational preferences. The results were even more dramatic than expected.

The average healthcare practice—across all specialties—can expect to lose 1 out of 3 patients in the next couple of years. Ouch.

Fortunately, there are two little words that can make a BIG difference in your patient retention rates: “I’m sorry.” In fact, studies have shown that a little apology can have a big impact. For example, saying, “I’m sorry” can:

Improve satisfaction

Study after study has found that wait times are one of the biggest irritant for patients. Here is where a simple apology can work wonders. According to research, 70 percent of patients say that an apology would completely or somewhat minimize their frustration with a long wait.

Want a quick tip to know WHEN you might need to apologize for a long wait? Hang a clock outside each exam room. After leaving your patient there, set the clock. That way, both the physicians and nurses will know just how long a patient has been waiting. If it's a little too long, have the doctor sincerely apologize for the wait. If it's been a REALLY long wait, consider having little gift cards or other surprises on hand to give to patients, along with that sincere apology. One medical group did this and was able to improve their patient satisfaction concerning wait times from the first percentile to the 70th percentile.  

Build trust

We all know that the patient-provider relationship is founded on trust. Which builds trust more for you Patient apologies build trust personally? Visiting an office, experiencing poor service (or an actual medical mistake), and that office not acknowledging the problem? Or a sincere apology and explanation of what that practice is doing to make things better? Obviously, the second option is one that builds trust.

Some practices say...but what if the patient didn't even realize there was a problem until we told them? Then we could have avoided the bad feelings altogether by just not saying anything.  Let's flip that on it's head, however. What if they DID know that there was a problem but you didn't realize they knew? This is a much more likely scenario.

The patient would simply think that you didn't care enough to acknowledge the issue, much less apologize. That would be a huge mistake. Even when a mistake occurs in treatment, apologies are almost always the best policy. A study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that “full disclosure after a medical error reduces the likelihood that patients will change physicians, improves patient satisfaction, increases trust in the physician, and results in a more positive emotional response.” That's right. IMPROVES satisfaction. INCREASES trust. All by simply saying that you are sorry. 

 Reduce malpractice lawsuits

As mentioned above, a great way to boost satisfaction after a medical error is to apologize. What's really interesting is that apologies not only improve satisfaction, but decrease the risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Apologies reduce malpractice lawsuitsWhen one study asked patients to evaluate different situations where medical errors occurred, virtually every patient (98 percent) said that they “desired or expected the physician’s active acknowledgement of an error" and 88 percent  “would want the doctor to tell [them] that he or she was sincerely sorry.”

Patients are less likely to seek legal advice when a practice assumes responsibility for the error, apologizes, and outlines steps that would be taken to prevent recurrence. In fact, studies show that around 40 percent of patients who filed a medical malpractice suit said that if they had received an explanation and apology, they would not have filed the suit in the first place.

"I'm sorry" is never very fun to say. It takes humility and grace. However, it can be one of the greatest tools in your "patient satisfaction toolbox." Give it a try!

Want more tricks for keeping patients happy? Read our free guide, "Discover the Secret Sauce of Patient Satisfaction" today. 

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Lori Boyer

Lori Boyer

Lori Boyer has spent over a decade developing content and customer strategy for a wide variety of companies. She especially loves "walking a mile" in the shoes of her target audience. At Solutionreach we focus on relationships - building and maintaining them. She does the same. Lori Boyer is a lover of crisp fall mornings, a good book, and just about anything Beauty and the Beast related.

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