What is the “I’m Sorry Law" for physicians? What is the purpose of this law?
The “I’m Sorry Law" is a law that allows physicians the opportunity to express sympathy to a patient for an unexpected outcome of the care they provided. This law actually protects healthcare professionals. The whole purpose of the "I'm Sorry Law" is an attempt to encourage transparency and communication between the healthcare professional and patient and at the same time reduce the fear of the doctor making some statement that could later be viewed as evidence of medical malpractice.
Everyday mistakes happen in the provision of healthcare to patients; mistakes are inevitable in the healthcare world. Some of these mistakes are minor and some are major with some even resulting in death. We all know that human beings are capable of making mistakes; no one is perfect. But in the provision of healthcare should there be mistakes? Is the “I’m Sorry Law" simply legal guidelines that protect healthcare providers when they do make mistakes? How would you feel if your healthcare provider admits they made a mistake and gave you an official apology? Would this make things better for both you the patient and your healthcare provider? The reason why I am asking this is because many states have enacted the “I’m Sorry Law".
Which states have adopted the “I’m Sorry Law" for physicians?
The following thirty states have adopted the “I’m Sorry Law" for physicians: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming and the District of Columbia.
This law adopted to protect physicians is not all black and white. There are gray areas and these areas are stipulations to the law itself. For example, in order for the “I’m Sorry Law" to protect a physician, the following contentions must be met: There must be no medical negligence involved, if there is alleged medical misconduct it did not result in the damages claimed by the plaintiff, and/or if the plaintiff is not injured to the extent claimed. If a physician has made any oral or written statement that is not consistent with any or all of the above contentions, their statements may be considered to be “admissions against interest".
Most people who sue doctors are not just suing for money. They are suing for not being able to understand exactly what went wrong and are seeking some type of explanation and resolution. The good news is that under the American Medical Association's (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics physicians are required to be honest with their patients and apologize for their mistakes if medical complications arise due to their error. Some legal experts feel that this in itself makes it bad for the physician because it is basically an admission of guilt and is therefore not advised by malpractice attorneys. However, many others believe that an official apology from a physician encourages them to develop more sincere human relations, without fear of sanctions.
The society we now live in is very eager to sue and the malpractice lawsuits against physicians are steadily on the rise. The mass media is very much responsible for this unfortunate reality. After all when we watch TV and/or listen to the radio we constantly hear about ways to sue our doctor. To counter act this many states have ruled that a doctor’s apology cannot be used as evidence of liability in a malpractice lawsuit. Also, a report on medical liability produced by the AMA confirms that physicians who apologize for their mistakes are favored for owning up and showing responsibility. Therefore, it may be safe to say the “I’m Sorry Law" serves a great purpose in the healthcare world because it has the potential to actually strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.