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Disclosure & Apology to non-English Speaking Patients/ are YOU handling it??

Saying "sorry" is hard enough for clinicians...imagine trying to do it through an interpreter. How do you know the translator is delivering your message in the proper context? What if empathy and apology mean different things in the language of the person who is receiving your message? Do you have people on your staff or on call who can have these delicate discussions with Spanish speakers and other prevalent foreign languages in your area/region? Do the interpreters understand your disclosure program and your approach to transparency? Do the translators know how to convey empathy (no admission of fault) and describe the review that will follow, along with possible outcomes, including apology and resolution? Have you thought about any of these questions, or are you just hoping -- praying! -- that you never have an adverse event with a non-English speaking patient?!?

I am raising these questions due a recent conversation I had with a colleague. She reminded me that "sorry" can mean different things in different languages and cultures, and that interpreters may not always convey your message in the tone and context you wish. It's a tricky situation. Disclosing to non-English speaking patients and families is an important issue that must be considered with the development or refinement of your disclosure and apology program.

How are readers of this space addressing this important issue? Please share your experiences and thoughts on this topic by e-mailing Our goal (as always with all topics related to disclosure) is to share the learning with everyone. Of course, we will not use your name or the name of your organization...we simply want your experiences (good and bad) and your insights. Please e-mail

I believe this is an important topic to consider when developing and improving disclosure programs. So, please share your experiences and thoughts with us. In addition to e-mailing, you may also dial me directly at 618-559-8168.

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