I’m Kate Dewhirst.

I’m a lawyer who writes about legal issues affecting healthcare in Canada

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Do you know how to apologize?

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A note popped into my inbox this morning from Michael Hyatt, who is an extraordinary business coach.  The topic is “The anatomy of a true apology”.

I am working right now with a medical office on a privacy breach and notifying patients.  And we have had some heartfelt discussions about how to convey sincerity in the notification letters about the team’s apology.

As Privacy Officers, Risk Managers and Patient Relations Officers, you have the meetings and write the letters to patients to say sorry for the poor behaviour of others. It’s not quite the same as apologizing for your own mistakes – but there are take away messages to remember about how others receive bad news and what your patients want to hear when your organization has failed them.

I thought Michael’s tips on how to issue an apology were really helpful.  He has two blog posts on the subject:

Ten Difficult, But Really Important Words

How to Botch an Apology

To add a few of my own observations:

  1. Use your own words.  Lawyers can help you with an outline of a letter or a script for an apology meeting, but the best apologies are conveyed using your own words.
  2. Offer time and space. Once you have told a patient what happened, give them some time and space to absorb the information.  Offer to speak with them at a later date at their convenience to answer any questions.
  3. Keep it simple.  If you feel the need to provide the whole backstory, write it out and then edit the apology notes back to the basics. It can look like you are trying to confuse people if you provide too much information.

Issuing an apology is never easy.  But health care organizations that can provide a sincere apology often avoid escalation to third party complaints and litigation.


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Some of Kate’s recent and upcoming events

Health Privacy Officer training
September 22, 2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations - now totally online.

This course focuses on how to become a more confident privacy officer and gives you the tools to document your privacy program. Full details and registration here...

Primary care webinars: Employment Law Update & Legal Issues for EDs and Board members

Part of Kate’s monthly webinar series.

Our November program will address human rights issues with guest speaker Christine Hanson and scenarios.
Full details of the 2020 webinar series and registration here.

Advanced Health Privacy Officer training
November 3,2020

For Privacy Officers within healthcare organizations - now totally online

This course focuses on taking theory into practice and we do real life scenarios to build your Privacy Officer skills.
Full details and registration here.

Free healthcare privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the first Wednesday of every month

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy officer or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Team Privacy Training Events
October 22, 23, 26, 29, November 11, 12, 13, December 4

For Primary Care clinics, Hospitals, Community Agencies and Children’s Aid

Kate trains health professionals from many more health care organizations how being privacy-respectful can improve therapeutic relationships. More details...

Free Part X CYFSA privacy webinar - ask me anything!
the second Wednesday of every month

Free webinars - advance registration needed

Whether you're an experienced privacy designate or new in the field, pick Kate’s brain for free for an hour, in this live webinar. No charge, but you’ll need to register in advance.

Part X CYFSA Privacy Designate training
November 10 and 17

For Privacy Designates in the child welfare sector including children's aid societies and indigenous children's well-being centres

This course focuses on how to implement Part X of the Child Youth and Family Services Act in your organization.
Full details and registration here.

Kate Dewhirst Health Law

Kate says:

My mission is bringing the law to life. I make legal theory understandable, accessible and fun! I’m available and love to work for all organizations in the healthcare sector across Ontario and beyond.

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