Should doctors' apologies for malpractice be kept out of court?
A bill before the Pennsylvania Legislature would allow a doctor admission to a patient that he or she harmed the patient through medical malpractice without having to confront that admission in court later. The bill would prohibit victims of medical malpractice from bringing a doctor's apology or admission of negligent care into court as evidence in a civil lawsuit.
Supporters of the bill say that an "apology law," as it is called, would benefit doctors who wish to apologize to a patient for their conduct but are afraid that doing so would lead to their having to take financial responsibility. State Rep. Ronald Marsico, R-Dauphin, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said an apology law would provide "protection for health care providers." Current laws allow doctors to express general regret over a patient's suffering.
Some victims will also benefit, supporters say. Many patients who were harmed by a doctor's failure to diagnose an illness or surgical error are more interested in finding out what happened than financial compensation. This bill would theoretically make negligent doctors more willing to speak honestly about incidents of malpractice with the patients and family members who were affected by that negligence.
But opponents say the bill would harm patients' ability to have their medical bills and lost wages paid for by the responsible parties. The bill could allow doctors to admit that they negligently harmed their patients without having to pay for that negligence.
There are versions of the apology law bill in both the state House and Senate. The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee voted to approve the bill on Feb. 5.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "For doctors, hospitals, 'sorry' is a hard word to say," Amaris Elliott-Engel, Feb. 25, 2013
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