5 Tips to Make An Apology Count

5 Tips to Make An Apology Count by Elements magazine | pbahealth.com

When a mistake occurs, saying “sorry” is a neccessary, but sometimes difficult task. To get the most out of an apology, you have to make sure you’re doing it well.

Apologizing after causing a patient an inconvenience, or after a serious mistake occurs, can help smooth over an error and prevent litigation. The best apologies leave you and the patient feeling better about the situation, and they end with a solution that will prevent the mistake from happening again.

RELATED: How to Build Patient Trust in Your Independent Pharmacy

A bad apology can be worse than no apology at all. A rushed apology can feel insincere to patients. And, it can leave your pharmacy exposed to unnecessary liability. If you wait too long to apologize, a small mistake can turn into a bigger offense.

Here are some tips for making a great apology—for the benefit of your patients and your pharmacy.

1. Plan it ahead of time

Every pharmacy should have a plan in place for what to do if an error occurs, including an outline for apologizing. This way, you can organize your thoughts before the heat of the moment, and have a uniform response for all of your pharmacy employees if a situation requiring an apology arises.

An outline will also help you clearly communicate what specifically you’re apologizing for, so you can express regret for a small inconvenience without shouldering unnecessary liability. Having a plan will keep you focused and prevent you from getting flustered.

2. Apologize as soon as possible

Once you realize there’s been a mistake, correct it and apologize as soon as possible. Contacting patients about mistakes quickly can help control the mistake’s damage. Or, if a mistake is caught quickly enough, you can fix it before the patient leaves your pharmacy. The earlier you can address the problem, the better.

3. Explain any harm the mistake caused

This may seem like something the patient would bring up, but when you’re telling a patient you’ve made a mistake, he or she might not know what to ask. It’s important to provide him or her with all the necessary information about any harm the mistake may have caused.

For example, if a patient received the wrong medication, explain what the medication does, and how it might affect him or her, even if the wrong medication will have little to no effect. Your patient might be too flustered to ask about potential impairments. Sharing this information during the apology is important because it helps put the entire mistake to rest in one conversation.

4. Talk to the patient’s doctor

After a mistake, contact the patient’s doctor, especially if you have a good relationship with him or her. Work together as members of the patient’s health care team to assess any damage, and decide how to combat it.

This information is also important for doctors to know, so they have a complete and accurate medical history. Plus, a serious mistake can jeopardize your trust and relationship with the doctor, as well as the patient, so consider apologizing to him or her, too.

5. Provide compensation, when appropriate

For small inconveniences, like a longer-than-usual wait time, a verbal apology might be the only compensation that’s appropriate. For larger mistakes, like filling the wrong prescription, or forgetting to give a patient both of the prescriptions he came to pick up, you might need to provide some sort of compensation.

Consider refunding the patient’s out-of-pocket cost for an incorrectly filled prescription, or offering a percent off a future front-end purchase. Small gestures of compensation paired with apologies can go a long way to smooth over a disgruntled patient.

Use these tips to help rebuild damaged trust and relationships with patients and physicians after a mistake is made. Remember, everyone makes mistakes, but how you handle them can set your pharmacy apart from the rest. 

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Elements is written and produced by PBA Health, a buy-side solutions company.

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