Bill lets docs apologize without fear of retribution
It’s not always easy to say “I’m sorry,” but it recently got a bit easier for members of the Pennsylvania medical community.
Under the Benevolent Gesture Medical Professional Liability Act, unanimously approved by the state House and Senate and signed into law Oct. 23 by Gov. Corbett, a benevolent gesture made by a health care provider, assisted living residence or personal care home before a lawsuit LV fiOHG wRuOG EH LnDGPLVVLble as evidence of liability.
The bill, S.B. 379, definHV EHnHYROHnW JHVWuUH as “any action, conduct, statement or gesture that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion or commiseration emanating from humane impulses.”
Hospital C Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania President and CEO Andy Carter lauded the ELOO DV “D VLJnLfiFDnW wLn for Pennsylvanians and the hospitals that serve them.”
“The bill does not preYHnW Dny SDWLHnW IURP fiOLnJ a medical liability lawsuit when there is an unanticipated medical outcome,” he said in a press release.
“Instead, it allows for the kind of open discussion that can lead to resolution without the exces- sive costs that result when matters are decided in the courtroom.”
There has “always been a concern of others interpreting a human wish to express sorrow that someone was hurt as being an admission of guilt,” Abington Memorial Chief of Staff Dr. John J. Kelly said in an interview. “We’re not saying we’re sorry we caused this, which was the translation allowable for jurors.
“It’s a good thing,” he said of the bill; there is a “human need to fulfill in explaining we’re sorry someone was hurt in our care. … It gives protection so those human expressions won’t be misused.”
Kelly said some doctors were probably afraid to apologize before, noting, “We used to be careful.” Thirty years ago “hospital attorneys advised not to apologize” or explain to a patient what happened.
But “trust is only possible with transparency,” which AMH has aspired to over the past 15 years, Kelly said. “Transparency is always accompanied by being sorry a patient was harmed.”
Pennsylvania Medical Society spokesman Chuck Moran said the hope is that the bill will reduce the number of lawsuits filed. “This bill will help improve patientdoctor communications, while also helping trial lawyers who often have people call them thinking they have malpractice cases when the physicians didn’t say they were sorry,” society President Dr. C. Richard Schott, a cardiologist in suburban Philadelphia, said in a statement.
“It should help lawyers and doctors and patients get the information they desire,” Moran said. A patient “may not get the results wanted; there is always a margin for error.”
The number of lawsuits EHLnJ fiOHG DnG H[FHVVLYH awards led to a medical malpractice insurance crisis in 2002, when physicians, particularly high-risk practitioners, were having trouble getting insurance.
Some changes in the legal and insurance aspects of medical malpractice have led to better access to insurance, though “the rates are still very expensive,” Kelly said, and while the number of lawsuits are down in the fiYH-FRunWy 3KLODGHOSKLD region, some awards have been higher.
“I believe a tremendous amount of energy and resources have been invested in patient safety and we’re changing the way we look at care in the hospital, which has reduced preventable harm,” he said. “I think that has played as large a role as anything else.”
Abington Memorial has participated in a mediation program for more than a decade and operates in line with a national movement to “disclose, apologize and [make an] offer when appropriate,” he said. “We always let people know what happened and what we intend to do and apologize that it happened. Now with the support of the law the fear of apologizing is lessened.”
Kelly said he would like to see administrative health courts established to help resolve “disputes and errors in a better way.”
“I suspect we still have a ways to go,” he added.
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