What to do When a Physician Makes a Mistake

Posted by Taylor Kennedy in Public relations |


Everyone makes mistakes, but unfortunately when physicians err, the consequences are usually more severe. As a result, having a crisis communications plan to cover this type of scenario, however unlikely, is essential for hospitals and clinics. These plans are designed to protect and restore public confidence in an individual and the organization itself.


When a crisis occurs, you usually don’t have any time to think–you’re too busy responding and reacting. A pre-written plan helps establish a mutually agreed upon process and course of action for hospital staff (e.g. CEO, legal, HR, etc.) to follow, if a physician mistake occurs.

Your plan also should have pre-written messages and an assigned spokeperson(s), which also will help your organization be faster and more proactive in working with the media and other audiences.


So a mistake has been made, now how to react? Follow the action items in the crisis communications plan.

Your first audience should be internal. Show staff that the hospital or clinic is taking the situation seriously, be transparent with your course of actions and kill the rumor mill.

It’s also important to acknowledge the situation publicly. Do not deny it, and avoid saying “no comment” (which implies guilt). Remember, the victim in this scenario is the patient, not the physician.

Don’t let others shape the story. You want to stay ahead of it by explaining what happened and explaining what you plan to do (e.g. additional training, new safety procedures, etc.) to make sure the incident doesn’t happen again.

In your statement, you should apologize. The incorrect thinking is that apologizing leads to a lawsuit (read this study that shows “the link between litigation risk and the practice of disclosure and apology is tenuous”). Saying “I’m sorry” shows the physician and hospital are remorseful, which is important.

More often than not, the public is willing to forgive, especially if you follow these steps.



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