Friday, November 02, 2007

Physician Apologies

At least three bills currently pending in the Massachusetts legislature would provide legal protection to doctors who apologize for errors. S1284 would set up a pilot program through which the apologies of participating physicians "shall not be subject to subpoena or discovery, or introduced into evidence, in any judicial or administrative proceeding." This bill would require "participating hospitals and physicians [to] promptly acknowledge and apologize for mistakes in patient care and promptly offer fair settlements."

Two other bills, S987 and H1370, apply to all health care providers, and provide that "any and all statements, affirmations, gestures, activities or conduct expressing benevolence, regret, apology, sympathy, commiseration, condolence, compassion, mistake, error, or a general sense of concern which are made by a a health care provider, facility or an employee or agent of a health care provider or facility, to the patient, a relative of the patient, or a representative of the patient and which relate to the unanticipated outcome shall be inadmissible as evidence in any judicial or administrative proceeding and shall not constitute an admission of liability or an admission against interest." These bills do not require the offer of a settlement.

The Mass. Medical Society supports the passage of S987/H1370. According to the Boston Globe, "the state's trial lawyers oppose giving any doctor a special exemption." A study done at Washington University reports that "Patients said they wanted to know if there had been an error, how the error happened, and particularly what the doctor and institution would be doing to prevent the error from happening again. And they would like an apology." It is unclear, though, what patients' views might be of legal protection for that apology.