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Pennsylvania law aims to protect doctors who apologize for errors

Medical mistakes often have painful and lifelong consequences for injured patients, and many doctors are undoubtedly saddened by adverse medical outcomes. Still, hospitals and doctors have to be held accountable when a surgical mistake, medication error or failure to diagnose leads to patient injury or death.

Last month Gov. Tom Corbett signed a Pennsylvania law that is meant to protect doctors and other medical professionals if they apologize to patients about a medical error. Last week we discussed breaking the culture of silence in the medical profession, and lawmakers hope that the new law will encourage more clear communication among medical professionals and patients.

Supporters of the bill also hope that it will help reduce the number of medical malpractice claims. According to one report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, frustration with the medical community often leads to medical malpractice claims, as doctors come off as lacking sympathy when they avoid apologizing for a medical mistake or an unforeseen outcome.

The new law does not technically undermine a patient's right to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, as such a lawsuit may still have factual evidence on its side, regardless of a doctor's explanation or apology. Medical malpractice claims are also necessary in many cases for injured patients or their families to receive compensation for ongoing care or other costs resulting from a medical professional's negligence.

When injurious medical errors occur, patients need to be aware of their legal options for receiving the necessary treatment and holding doctors and nurses responsible for their mistakes. An apology after such an error is undoubtedly welcome, but sometimes further legal action is necessary for patients to receive the care they need and deserve.

Source: The Pennsylvania Record, "Corbett signs 'benevolent gesture' bill into law," Jon Campisi, Oct. 25, 2013

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