The Iowa MHI Closure Plan: Could an Apology Work?

OK, I think it’s high time to publish all of the names and comments so far obtained on the petition to enhance mental health care in Iowa, specifically as it relates to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s plan to close two of the state’s 4 Mental Health Institutes (MHIs): Mt. Pleasant and Clarinda. The link is petition-to-enhance-inpatient-mental-health-care (1). One of the many complaints I have about ipetition is the lack of a link enabling signers to see all signatures and comments on the web site.

I’d like to apologize to the petition signatories about my choice of petition web site.

There have been several glitches in the ipetition site, which they’ve been a bit tardy about correcting–although they did apologize one time in reply to one of my complaints. They claimed that no signatures have been dropped and, technically that’s true. However, I’ve noticed that one signature is not visible yet on the ipetition web site and that is Dr. Aubrey Chan, MD, PhD. He signed on February 6, but ipetition indicated the date was February 7.

They can’t even get my time zone right.

Aubrey, your name is in the pdf file above!

Apologies are important and when they are sincere, timely, and followed by corrective action we appreciate them. However, they can be done badly.

One situation in which an apology went awry relates to Turbotaxgate, which led to a lot of frustration in long-time users of the tax software, including me. See the official apologies from Turbotax General Manager Sasan Goodarzi below, which we’ll call The First Apology and The Second Apology (you’ll see why):


Just looking at The First Apology on the left reveals that it’s longer than The Second Apology on the right. Readers may disagree, but I think that’s because The First Apology contains just as much in the way of excuses as an apology. In my opinion, to paraphrase Shakespeare, brevity is the soul of sincerity. Hey, that’s got a nice ring to it.

In other words, just say you’re sorry and do something to rectify what you’ve done to your customer, spouse, employee, child, parent, constituent, patient, “your victim’s name here.” Hey, doctors are advised to apologize, and this tends to work best if it’s sincere.

By the way, Sasan, you owe me another $5 since you made me pay $30 to upgrade to a Turbotax version we didn’t need.

I recently got an apology from Healthgrades, one of those online physician rating sites which are not reliable avenues for patients to assess the competence of doctors because there is no guaranteed method for separating the truthful patient rater from persons who are willing to lie on the internet. I published a couple of posts in 2012 about what doctors need to do to protect their online footprint: (post 1) and (post 2). Going on three years later, I got the message below:

Dear Dr. Amos,

I work at Healthgrades and was involved in some research which allowed me to come across your email/case from 2012. I would like to apologize on the behalf of Healthgrades, I did not see a reply to your concern of a survey posted on Healthgrades. Healthgrades has had some business rule changes recently which allow me to suppress the survey functionality for mental healthcare providers (upon request) because of the clientele and ethical responsibilities you have as a provider. I have processed this which will take 24-48 hours to complete to the Healthgrades site.

Our company has grown a lot over the last few years and its direction is to offer in-depth information for the consumer to choose the right doctor, the right hospital and get the right care.


[Healthgrades employee]

Not bad! Better late than never. Was it influenced by physicians’ complaints to Consumer Affairs, ironically itself an online rating site? Who knows? Anyway, now the rating is removed that was attached to my name–from Healthgrades, but there are many of these sites out there and removing one doesn’t remove them all.

group pic 1 (3)I had to apologize to a colleague and that was difficult. I apologized to that person immediately after the transgression, something I’m not sure I would have done prior to participating in a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. I also did it in front of several other people, including residents. They seemed pretty impressed in spite of my obvious blunder. Not only did they see me “…even when I was not at my best.” They saw me at one of my worst moments. I think it’s why they threw an end-of-rotation lunch for me and stood for a group picture. An apology works–when we mean it.

And forgiveness feels good.

I could easily apply the apology rule to the MHI closure issue. Governor Branstad might be able to settle this before it’s too late by apologizing to Iowans and starting a conversation about how to enhance our ability to care for the mental health needs of the people of this state.

Please be brief.