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Posted on Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 10:21 a.m.

New 'I'm sorry' law lets health care providers express sympathy without fear of lawsuits

By Juliana Keeping

In Michigan, it’s now OK for doctors to say “I’m sorry.”

A bill Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Tuesday means doctors and other health care providers no longer have to worry about an apology being considered an admission of liability.

Doctors have often avoided such expressions of sympathy out of fear it would would lead to costly medical malpractice lawsuits.

Thirty-five other states have similar “I’m sorry” laws, the governor's office said.

At the University of Michigan Health System, a policy in place for a decade allows doctors to fully disclose and compensate for medical errors. An August 2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found the policy decreased lawsuits against the health system and lowered liability costs.

The new law doesn’t apply to statements related to fault or negligence on the part of a health care provider. The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Jim Marleau, R-Lake Orion.

Has your doctor ever said "I'm sorry" as an expression of sympathy or an admission of error? Are you a health care provider who has had to bite your tongue for fear of a malpractice lawsuit? Tell us about it below and take our poll.

Juliana Keeping covers general assignment and health and the environment for AnnArbor.com. Reach her at julianakeeping@annarbor.com or 734-623-2528. Follow Juliana Keeping on Twitter

Comments

BhavanaJagat

Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 5:07 p.m.

It is said that, "To err is human, and to forgive is Divine." I would sincerely appreciate if the University of Michigan Health System, its doctors, and its health care providers truly admit and confess that "I am, Sorry" ,and add a little meaning to that words of sympathy. It will be really kind of the U of M Health System to say "SORRY" and disclose that the Bill is wrong, has been inflated, tests that are not needed or required for patient care have been added, some items have been billed without rendering any service, the patient was kept waiting at physiotherapy has to pay for the waiting period, and such billing errors are not simple human accounting errors and that are the part of a game that they play according to the rules.

Farah

Sat, Apr 23, 2011 : 1:22 a.m.

I think this could actually work. When doctors have a bad outcome they are trained to not speak with the patient for danger of saying something or doing something that will hurt them later on in court. I think people want to see their doctor genuinly care. More about medical malpractice insurance here at my blog: <a href="http://www.equotemd.com/blog" rel='nofollow'>http://www.equotemd.com/blog</a> We need more original ideas like this as opposed to the same old, caps arguments. Farah

Jeremy Engdahl-Johnson

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 4:48 p.m.

What can we learn about medical professional liability from prior economic downturns? <a href="http://www.healthcaretownhall.com/?p=3296" rel='nofollow'>http://www.healthcaretownhall.com/?p=3296</a>

Kara Gavin

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 10:19 a.m.

At the U-M Health System, our approach actually goes far beyond a simple &quot;I'm sorry.&quot; You can read more at <a href="http://www.med.umich.edu/news/newsroom/mm.htm" rel='nofollow'>http://www.med.umich.edu/news/newsroom/mm.htm</a> . Kara Gavin UMHS Public Relations

Basic Bob

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 : 3:46 a.m.

Does the law cover &quot;my bad&quot;?

Oregon39_Michigan7

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 7:33 p.m.

I called Blue Cross Blue Shield and read them the new law, then I asked if they would lower my premium. They said no.

jeff4179

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

Come on people. The angry comments here are implying that &quot;I'm sorry&quot; is going to substitute for a lawsuit where a doctor has committed egregious malpractice. Doctors who cut off the wrong leg will still get sued. All the law says is that a doctor's simple expression of empathy or concern -- &quot;I'm sorry&quot; -- can't be used against him or her in a lawsuit. It seems sad that we would even need such a law, but such is our litigious society.

Pilgrim

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

There surely can be some other expression of empathy the medical profession can use, instead of &quot;I'm sorry&quot;. But can't come up with one yet--sorry...

shumom23

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

I'm sorry really would have liked to hear that when a doctor killed my mother because we called in a consult doctor and his ego trip made him ignore his pager for her and she died at 59 years old. Or when my daughter had a stroke due to a drug given to her that in the beginning they knew it would cause strokes or heart attacks in some people and should have not been on the market at all And these people think I'm sorry made them open to law suits ! REALLY ! It is just called accountability for your actions Doctors and nurses have a responsibility and if they make a mistake they will say Im sorry . Not much room for error in the medical field or EGO !

dotdash

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 5:03 p.m.

I think this is good. Several times family members have been in the position where &quot;I'm sorry&quot; would have been appropriate, even though it was not the doctor's fault, per se. Screwed up lab results, not right tests, bad luck, etc. But the doctor couldn't say she was sorry and we knew she couldn't say she was sorry -- because how did she know we weren't the suing kind of people? We live in a crazy-litigious society, and this seems like a move in a more human direction. To a first approximation, physicians' interests are completely aligned with their patients' interests: they all want the patient to get well. So it's good if everyone can be on the same side instead of confrontational.

DennisP

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 4:33 p.m.

I'm sorry I cut off your leg when you came in only for knee surgery. Don't feel bad. Think of the bright side. At least you won't have that awful knee pain anymore. There...feel better now? What's that? Your bad knee is on your remaining leg? I cut off the good knee? Boy, if it weren't for bad luck, you'd have no luck at all. Trust me, I feel worse about this than you do. But, your attorney needn't know that because it won't be admissable in court. Well take care! Next patient!

PittsfieldTwp

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 4:27 p.m.

The study referred to in this article stated that apologies resulted in less costs from lawsuits. However, if its known that doctors can aplolgize without risk, I doubt the outcome of the test will still result. Its possible the patient will tnow take it as, &quot;yeah, whatver, thanks for your less than hearful apology, I am going to sue.&quot;

tim

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 3:58 p.m.

How about a law that allows the public to tell the corporate health care industry &quot; sorry but we now have universal health care and we will only pay what the country can afford &quot;.

xmo

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 3:48 p.m.

Anything to reduce the lawsuits which are driving up our medical cost!

Ron Granger

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 3:46 p.m.

Why is the state of Michigan so eager-beaver to bend over for the medical industry? Is there really nothing more important in Lansing? For example.. We are the ONLY state with a law that prohibits residents from seeking compensation from drug companies that produce unsafe products, produce false research, or kill people. Recent history has shown drug companies often engage in such conduct. The law was a gift to companies like Pfizer, and demonstrated influence of their well paid lobbyists on Michigan's government. As I recall, it was an almost purely Republican effort. Where is Pfizer now? Why isn't the legislature focusing on the repeal of that stupid law instead of passing more laws?

Brian Kuehn

Wed, Apr 20, 2011 : 5:34 p.m.

&quot;We are the ONLY state with a law that prohibits residents from seeking compensation from drug companies that produce unsafe products, produce false research, or kill people.&quot; I do not claim to have expert knowledge in this particular statute. However, I believe Mr. Granger's summary is overly simplistic. I believe the limitations on litigation extend to drugs that are FDA approved as safe. To say the law extends blanket immunity to pharmaceutical companies to produce unsafe products, falsify research and kill people is a gross exaggeration.