Michigan encourages apologies by doctors
This week, legislators in Michigan almost unanimously adopted rules encouraging doctors to apologize to patients who have been harmed by medical errors. The legislation, supported by health care provider lobbyists and the lawyers who represent victims, allows doctors to express sympathy without acknowledging fault--and prevents the admission at trial of this kind of "empathetic" communication. Actual admissions of fault will continue to be admissible at trial.Frankly, the legislation seems like "much ado about nothing," since we doubt that it will stimulate actual communication between doctors and patients, however, if it does, it will be a good development. The legislation was stimulated by efforts out of the University of Michigan to resolve legitimate medical grievances without forcing patient victims to resort to litigation. The experience at the University has demonstrated that outright acknowledgement of errors actually reduces the overall cost and frequency of malpractice litigation. The average cost per lawsuit experienced by the University decreased to $228,000.00 from more than $400,000.00 after the more forthright policy was adopted. Rick Boothman, who runs the risk management/litigation system at the University was quoted to the effect that: "We should not have to make people sue us if we make a medical error." Unfortunately, Boothman's approach is not standard for the industry.