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    Judge says apologies can't be used in malpractice suits

    What does this decision mean for doctors?


    Saying Sorry

    Tom Davis MD, FAAFP, a family physician in Washington, Missouri, admits he’s made a number of errors in his 25 years in medicine and is in favor of this ruling as it frees clinicians to use the best liability prevention weapon—an apology.


    HOT TOPIC: It's time a real investment is made in primary care


    “In a world where healthcare is becoming more corporate and less human, it’s a single step toward restoring the human connection of clinician and patient—to the benefit of both,” he says. “The experience has to be face-to-face, human and personal. You have to make a connection.”

    Davis says any apology should be done with witnesses around, preferably loved ones and supporters of the patient, plus one other who is neutral to both parties. This is something he learned from his mentors in residency.

    “When I screwed up, I came clean as fully and quickly as possible. I did so face-to-face with a full explanation of what went wrong and why, admitted my personal responsibility, described the consequences of my error and what was in my power to mitigate them,” he says. “Not once did any of them file against me.”

    Alessi notes that research has shown that a physician who commiserates with his or her patient over such an outcome is far less likely to be sued for malpractice than a physician who does not do so.


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    “Such empathy also permits the physician to express his or her humanity to the patient, to be true to the profession’s calling to be healing, both physically and emotionally, when the outcome is not what the patient had hoped for, and to assist the patient and the family to accept this outcome,” he says in an email.

    Not Just Ohio

    Alessi notes that 36 states have enacted what are known as “physician apology statutes,” and the essence of all is that a court cannot permit any testimony or other evidence to be presented to the jury showing that the physician expressed any feelings of empathic or condolences for a patient after an unanticipated, adverse outcome.

    Next: Understanding your state's laws

    Keith Loria
    Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.

    1 Comment

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    • UBM User
      Once upon a time in Spain, I was told that if someone involved in a traffic accident called the hospital to ask about the patient's condition, or talk to the injured, this was considered an evidence of guilt. Does it ever applied elsewhere?

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