Sharing ideas on Risk, Human Performance, Teams and Leaders

Bromiley, Bowen & Dinwoodie

How to tell a patient you have made a terrible mistake

"A very personal and invaluable perspective of what is important to families when communication that things have gone wrong to their loved ones, particularly related to medical incidents. The panel provided a framework including three important points when approaching families to deliver bad news. These include: 1. Do not assume to know what the “mental models” of the family are at the time of the meeting. Do not try to control the meeting but undertake it according to the wishes of the family. 2. The meeting must be about sharing and being honest about what is known. A genuine sorry is essential, acknowledging the tragedy, but without trying to provide excuses or withhold information because of concerns over future outcomes or consequences. It is preferable to use language such as “we are very sorry for your tragic loss, and we will do everything we can to understand what happened and be open with you and answer all your questions. As for the outcomes, they will be what they will be”. It is important to avoid using phases such as “yes, but…” 3. There needs to be a human sharing and interaction when meeting with the families. The meeting should not be recorded and there should be no lawyers present representing the hospital or the clinicians. "