“Sorry for holding you up”: surgeons’ apologies for lateness in clinic settings

Sarah J. White*, Ken Ho, Kushagar Maini, Rhea Liang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Doctors running late may convey a lack of respect which can impair the therapeutic relationship. This study examines how surgeons address lateness in consultations with patients. We analyzed 52 consultation recordings from a range of surgical specialties in an Australian metropolitan setting. Conversation analysis was used to analyze interactional sequences where lateness was addressed. Six sequences were identified within four recordings. The two consultations with two apologies include a surgeon and registrar apologizing in a neurosurgical consultation and a surgeon apologizing twice within a colorectal consultation. Apologies were either accepted or responded to with an account for not accepting the apology. When these accounts were made, consultations could only progress when patients accepted an explanation for lateness or the degree of complainability about lateness was reduced. The infrequent occurrence of apologies for lateness, and the way in which these sequences unfolded when they did occur, suggest that there is greater acceptability of lateness for surgeons than in ordinary social situations.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Communication
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jan 2024
Externally publishedYes


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