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Posted on Apr 13, 2007

Will "I'm sorry" be enough? As many as 98,000 deaths in the United States occur each year from medical errors. States enact laws excluding expressions of sympathy after accidents as proof of liability. At least 29 states have passed the so-called "I'm sorry" law. "I'm Sorry" Laws Nationwide Protect Medical Professionals Controversial Laws Exclude Doc's Apology as Proof of Liability in Malpractice Suits By Aly Adair Published April 12, 2007 If a doctor treating you or your loved one makes a medical mistake and tells you "I'm sorry," would you forgive and forget? Would "I'm sorry" help you heal from a tragic ending caused by a medical error? Some people believe just hearing an apology from a doctor can make a huge difference to the patient or loved one. Steven Minicucci, a Rhode Island malpractice lawyer calls it the "I'm sorry I killed your mother" law. A proposed law in Massachusetts would give doctors more freedom to apologize for medical errors without it being used against them in court. You may have your own story about a medical error. There are certainly many stories in the media that shock us and make us wonder how these mistakes could happen by licensed medical professionals. A few years ago, my brother had back surgery. Six weeks later, he was deathly ill from a surgical device accidentally left in his abdomen that caused infection. He was rushed into a second surgery to remove the device. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported in 1999, that as many as 98,000 deaths in the United States occur each year from medical errors. According to the IOM study, 90% of the deaths resulted from failed systems and procedures, not the negligence of doctors. These findings helped prompt Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to hit the pavement in search of making patient safety the centerpiece of medical liability reform. Their perspective was published in The New England Journal of Medicine on May 25, 2006. According to their report, studies show that negligence is not the most important factor in people's decision to file a lawsuit, but rather, ineffective communication between patients and providers. This national shift in the health care system is in response to rising malpractice costs and the growing patient right-to-know movement. The old risk-management strategy where medical professionals deny-and-defend seems to encourage medical malpractice suits by making people angry. Now, at least 29 states have passed the so-called "I'm sorry" law, where doctors can apologize or express sympathy for medical mistakes without having to worry about the expressions being used against them in court. Saying, "I'm sorry" in many states will no longer be viewed as an admission of guilt in a medical malpractice lawsuit. As many as 98,000 deaths in the United States occur each year from medical errors. States enact laws excluding expressions of sympathy after accidents as proof of liability. At least 29 states have passed the so-called "I'm sorry" law. "I'm Sorry" Laws Nationwide Protect Medical Professionals Controversial Laws Exclude Doc's Apology as Proof of Liability in Malpractice Suits By Aly Adair Published April 12, 2007 Apology laws are different from state to state. Some state laws exempt only oral, not written, apologies. Others allow "safe" apologies within a 72-hour window of the mishap. Medical facilities have adopted some of their own policies regarding medical mishaps. The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute requires staff to acknowledge medical errors within 24 hours of its occurrence, prior to any investigation. Critics of the Rhode Island bill say it is too broad and could bar some internal hospital reports and medical errors from becoming evidence. Insurance companies, that underwrite malpractice policies, are also busy distributing education fact sheets to medical professionals, warning them against apologies that admit guilt, even in states that have passed "I'm sorry" laws. They warn doctors against using words like "fault", "error", "mistake" or "negligence." Insurance companies encourage apologies, but not necessarily for any error that may have occurred. ProMutual Group spokesperson, Nina Akerley says, "Apology is not about confession." The AON Risk Management Consulting firm lists these states that have enacted laws excluding expressions of sympathy after accidents as proof of liability: Arizona California Colorado Connecticut Delaware Florida Georgia Hawaii Idaho Illinois Louisiana Maine Maryland Massachusetts Missouri Montana New Hampshire North Carolina Ohio Oklahoma Oregon South Carolina Tennessee Texas Vermont Virginia Washington West Virginia Wyoming Five states have laws requiring mandatory notification of adverse events to patients: Florida Nevada New Jersey Pennsylvania Vermont

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