Pennsylvania Law Allows Doctors to Apologize

Medical professionals have long believed that many malpractice lawsuits could be avoided if doctors had more freedom to discuss adverse results candidly with patients and family members. Unfortunately, the fact that such discussions could potentially be admissible in court leads many doctors to be extremely cautious and taciturn when treatment or surgery is less than successful. But lack of communication can generate suspicion and resentment with the patient and family, which may ultimately lead to legal action.

To improve communication post-treatment, some states have enacted legislation that makes apologies or expressions of sorrow or regret inadmissible, thus allowing doctors to interact humanely with patients and families without fear of having their compassion used against them. Pennsylvania has been one of the more recent jurisdictions to join this trend through the passage of the Benevolent Gesture Medical Professional Liability Act in November of 2013. This Act prevents certain statements by doctors, officers, employees or agents of a health care provider or assisted living facility from being admissible in any court action, arbitration, mediation or administrative hearing:

  • Statements or gestures that convey a sense of apology
  • Condolences
  • Explanations
  • Statements or gestures of compassion or commiseration

Doctors and other medical professionals should, however, still proceed with caution. The Act expressly excludes from its coverage statements that admit fault or negligence. Moreover, only statements made to the patient or the patient’s family or representative are covered. Statements to coworkers or other professionals are still potentially admissible.

While this new legislation is important and likely beneficial to the moral standing and overall mental health of medical professionals, health care providers should not expect too much. Consultation with an experienced health care compliance and defense law firm in New Jersey can help doctors and health care administrators understand the true scope of this law and convey its operative provisions to their colleagues and staff.

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Posted in: Dispute Resolution & Professional License Defense