Doctors do not have any more excuses to not apologize for their medical mistakes or errors. Pennsylvania residents will find it interesting to learn of new legislation, expected to go into effect soon, which will allow medical practitioners to apologize to their patients without fear of having their apology being used as proof of culpability or admission of guilt on their behalf in potential medical malpractice suits.
It is important to note that the new apology legislation will not protect medical practitioners who have actually harmed their patients. Any Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer could probably tell our readers that the intent behind the law is to open the lines of communication between patients and their doctors and to hopefully better the relationship between a doctor and their patient. That in turn will hopefully lead to fewer malpractice suits.
In one case, where a doctor failed to diagnose kidney stones as his patient complained of back and severe stomach pain over a nine month time frame, the patient indicated that the doctor never apologized for his mistake, and that she considered suing him. But, an apology was what she wanted.
Research studies have suggested that when doctors express sympathy, for example when the end result of a procedure wasn’t as good as expected, that empathy can stave off the need for filing malpractice lawsuits in some of the states that have already passed these so-called apology laws. Currently, including Pennsylvania, 37 other states have enacted similar apology laws.
In 2008 the University of Michigan Health Systems took a historical look at the number of malpractice lawsuits filed since the apology law was passed there in 2001. The result was significant and hard to ignore: The total number of malpractice suits was halved and its yearly litigation expenditures went down by nearly $2 million.
It is hoped that passing the law will have the same effect in Pennsylvania as the number of malpractice lawsuits has been consistently rising year by year and more than doubling since 2008. However, since the law is somewhat ambiguous about what is and is not admissible in court, some attorneys have expressed concern on how the courts will interpret the letter of the law. Nevertheless, most agree that the intent of the law is a step in the right direction.
Source: Lancaster Online, “Can physicians’ apologies curb malpractice lawsuits?,” Cindy Stauffer, Dec. 15, 2013