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The Necessity and Power of Apology

Leilani Schweitzer is in charge of communication and resolution at Stanford Hospital in California. On a segment for NPR Ted Talks, she explains that she is the one tasked to apologize and make amends when a tragic incident happens during a patient’s hospital treatment.

Years ago, Schweitzer’s 20-month-old son Gabriel died in the same hospital due to a nurse’s error and the lack of a failsafe in the equipment used. Schweitzer speaks about how the hospital’s honesty and transparency were critical in her family’s healing:

It would have been easy for the university hospital administrators to blame the nurse, fire her and assume the problem had been solved because the bad apple was gone. It would have been typical deny-and-defend behavior for them to ignore my questions, to go silent and hope I couldn't gather my thoughts enough to file a lawsuit. But they didn't do that. Instead, they investigated. They explained, took responsibility, and apologized. It made all of the difference.

Schweitzer realizes how difficult it is for any person or institution to admit to having seriously injured or killed someone. There’s shame, guilt, and fear. Most hospitals don’t apologize and let the legal department handle the issue. Now in her position in the same hospital where her son died, she explains:

I've been in many meetings where we explain to patients and families what has happened. And those are difficult things to be part of. I've seen an explanation move the guilt off of a mother's face. I mean, that is the power. I have seen parents walk into a meeting with a physician where no one can lift their heads to look at each other. And by the end of that meeting, they are embracing. And it is remarkable what understanding can do for people.


Leilani Schweitzer, “How Can Hospitals Be More Transparent About Medical Errors?” National Public Radio Ted Talks (12-1-17)

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