By Marion Davis
WARWICK – After yet another defeat this year in the General Assembly, state Rep. Joseph M. McNamara, D-Warwick, has pre-filed a bill for the next session to try make it easier for doctors to say “I’m sorry” to their patients when they make a mistake or just have a bad outcome.
“Unfortunately, in a world where almost anything can lead to litigation, showing sympathy can too easily be seen as an admission of error or even guilt, especially in a health care setting,” McNamara said in a news release.
“Health care providers are human beings, and as such want to be considerate of and forthcoming with their patients and patients’ families,” he said. “In today’s litigious climate, they often have to prevent themselves from showing compassion. That shouldn’t have to happen.”
In fact, many experts believe that showing sympathy and, when appropriate, admitting errors would reduce doctors’ chances of getting sued, because many patients and families file suits just to get the doctor to acknowledge what happened and the harm that was done.
To make this less risky for medical providers, some states have enacted “I’m sorry” or “benevolent gestures” legislation that bars such statements or actions from being used as evidence against the provider in a malpractice suit.
McNamara has introduced a bill to that effect every session for several years, but he has never gotten far with it. In the last session, the bill never made it out of committee.
The bill that McNamara pre-filed for next year exempt statements or actions “expressing sympathy or a general sense of benevolence relating to the pain, suffering or death of such patient in connection with, or relating to, the patient’s condition or the outcome of such patient’s medical care and treatment” from being brought as evidence in a civil suit.
McNamara pointed to a recent settlement between Kent Hospital and actor James Woods and his family as proof that a simple “I’m sorry” can make a big difference. He also noted that since instituting a policy of apologizing and admitting errors in 2001, the University of Michigan Health System has seen malpractice claims drop by half, from 121 to 61 per year.