As of 2013, 36 states have medical malpractice apology laws; essentially, a medical professional can apologize or sympathize with a patient if a procedure does not go as planned without having the statement be considered an admission of guilt in a court of law.
Connecticut and Massachusetts – two states where Trantolo & Trantolo’s medical malpractice lawyers practice – both have apology laws, with the latter enacting it in 1986. The latest to consider such a bill is Pennsylvania.
According to a report from LancasterOnline.com, Pennsylvania physicians could apologize without fear the statement could be used against them. However, this bill, like other apology laws, wouldn’t excuse a physician who harmed a patient. Nursing home staff and administrators would also fall within its scope.
In Pennsylvania, as has been the case in other states, passing an apology law appears to correlate with fewer medical malpractice lawsuits. According to a 2010 Vassar College study, such laws lead to improved communication between the patient and physician. Vassar’s state-by-state analysis found that better communication – typically, a doctor is advised to never admit he or she is wrong or do express condolences – reduces a patient’s anger. In turn, the patient is less likely to file a lawsuit; in the event a case goes to court, settlements are reached quicker in states with apology laws.
Hospitals, as well, experience decreased costs. Vassar found that, between 2001 and ’07, the University of Michigan Health System saw its medical malpractice cases decrease by half and its litigation expenses go down $2 million.
Within Pennsylvania, which statements constitute an apology remain ambiguous. Issues also surfacing have included saying an apology the “wrong way.” Nevertheless, the goal of creating a better doctor-patient relationship remains state lawmakers’ goal. “Many people just want to know there is some caring,” Sen. Pat Vance told the press.