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Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Making Nice

Over the summer, a couple of news stories stood out to me as examples of lemons and lemonade:

First, the prix du citron:

Smarmy or sincere?

Tony Hayward of BP, after his company’s oil rig ‘malfunctioned’ and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. He had a few choice doozies. You probably remember:

The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.

Now technically, he was correct. But emotionally, he couldn’t have been more wrong. His comment made him appear like a callous and unsympathetic weasel.

A bit later, when the heat from the spill and the negative media attention were at their height, he was quoted as saying

There’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do, I’d like my life back.

Oh, really? Listen bub, nobody whose life has been affected by the oil leak wants to hear about your needs. Can you say TONE DEAF?

A few days later, when spotted watching his yacht in a race, it was clear the man himself had become too toxic to stay at the helm of BP.

Example #2: Another summer media kerfuffle, a kind of strange one, that showed a way of making lemonade out of a real stinkbomb lemon.

Do the Right Thing

Remember Shirley Sherrod, the career USDA employee who became ensnared in an out-of-context webinoma (I just made that up: a cancerous internet situation- ed.)? Two minutes of thirty-plus minute speech were taken out of context in a way that made her appear racist. The public outcry led to her firing before anyone had a chance to review the evidence and learn the full story.

After learning that they had been snookered by the slanted portrayal of Sherrod, federal officials backtracked from their criticism and offered her a promotion, handling outreach and advocacy and addressing issues of race both in and outside the agency.

From my vantage point, even beyond getting her job back, it was President Obama’s phone call to her that really started to turn the sour sweet. They spoke for seven minutes, and Obama didn’t specifically apologize. But he expressed empathy, and asked her to continue her work on behalf of the agency and the federal government.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

This was a classic example of “Making Nice.” Using the ol’ telephone to reach out and work through a problem or redress a concern.

I’d love to hear your stories of people doing you wrong and then making it right. Or doing you wrong and just leaving it that way. How did it make you feel? What would you have liked to hear?

In medical care, there’s growing evidence that making nice is a win-win. Patients win because when they feel wronged, someone is validating their concerns and offering those simple little words: “I’m sorry.” The evidence shows that it saves money on the hospital’s side: Less anger means fewer lawsuits and claims of damages.

Nothing wrong with a win-win in my book.

6 Comments

  1. Sorry to generalize, but I have noticed that the way one handles an error (even a huge one) has an enormous effect on its outcome. Handling the apology and change in behavior well can give you the opportunity to continue a relationship that might have been broken beyond repair had you not “manned up” and addressed the error.

    For example, when my son’s daycare teachers left him and a friend behind in a city park, I heard about it almost immediately from the head of the school She started the phone call (as she began any call home) with the assurance that my son was fine (knowing that so many of us jump to scary conclusions when we get a call from people who have charge of our kids). Then she told me the teachers had made a mistake and described exactly what the school was going to do to make sure that this did not happen again (not only to my son but to any of their students).

    Contrast this with my children’s elementary school. When my daughter was left in the playground, I only heard the story from her. No one at the school contacted me. No one told me what they would do to make sure this didn’t happen again (and in fact I witnessed similar things happening more than once). When I suggested to the principal that she remind teachers to count kids before and after moving them (all teachers and counselors know to do this, or so I had thought), she did not tell me that she would (or that she would take care of the problem another way).

    • glasshospital

      October 3, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Those are great examples of total service (and educational?) failures; one handled well, as you point out, without any offer of “compensation” other than “here’s what we’re going to do to rectify this” and the other a total botch.

      But what are you to do? Can you pull your daughter out of that school? Like a local hospital, I assume many parents lack the means to make a substantive change–limited by resources and geography.

      Thanks for sharing your stories.

      -Dr. John

  2. dollarsdownthedrain

    October 5, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    Here is an interesting article in Newsweek about the hospitals “doing wrong and a more productive way to make them right”.
    http://www.newsweek.com/2010/09/27/how-we-can-prevent-medical-errors.html

  3. It is true, problem support or customer support is gaining more and more attention in many facets of life. It is less about what you do, and increasingly about the class with which you carry yourself after you may make an error.

  4. Several years ago I was on the receiving end of a medical injury. I had to have surgery to fix the damage, and was temporarily disabled. This was back when everything about medical errors was very hush-hush. No one told me what was going on. It is an awful feeling to be pushed through surgery without being able to give informed consent. Although this incident was serious enough to merit a review by someone, I’m not aware that anyone ever looked over my case to determine what actually happened.

    I had to file two written complaints with the hospital to get any response, and I was stunned to learn there was nothing about it in my medical record. My letters were the first time the medical director was even aware something had gone wrong with a patient. Rather than dealing with me himself, he pushed me off onto a patient relations rep – someone who didn’t know me, hadn’t seen the medical record and didn’t even have a clinical background. She was unbelievably rude, almost like she didn’t believe me and assumed I was making it up so I could rip off the hospital. I was literally speechless. I suppose I could have sued but by then I was more or less an emotional train wreck and just wanted to get on with my life.

    The sad part is that it’s taken me years to be able to even marginally trust the system again. I can’t help wondering how many patients out there are deemed “difficult” and blamed for not being good patients, when perhaps the real issue is that something bad happened to them and no one has ever recognized their fear and anger and mistrust over how they were treated.

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