I had numerous cases where a complainant would've not escalated their concerns if they would've gotten an apology. An abrupt staff telling them to 'Sit down, your name will be called!' or 'There are others sicker than you!', 'I have another 10 patients to see!'...there are numerous examples where a patient may feel that an apology was necessary, but the provider does not necessarily agree with it.
What to do? Should you apologize or should you try to explain and 'get some sense' into the patient, who 'clearly does not understand the situation we are in'?
It's not often that clinicians have the time (or the confidence?) to explain to a patient a situation. Trying to explain to a patient in a busy ED that there is a triage system, they will be seen according to CTAS, or provide an apology for being short staffed is improbable.
However, complainants often tell me that they do NOT necessarily expect that either. All they want is to be ACKNOWLEDGED, and be reassured that they DO matter. Also, apologies are free (and not an admission of guilt in a court of law). It takes seconds to do it, and many times will stop the conflict right there and then. If you say that honestly, it goes a long way. Oh, and try "I/ we apologize' instead of 'I'm sorry'. It's more powerful.