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In Pennsylvania, New Legislation Allows Doctors to Apologize

Thanks in large part to physician advocacy, on Oct. 25, 2013, Gov. Tom Corbett signed into law legislation preventing most physician apologies from being used against them in a medical liability lawsuit.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) thanks the supporters who sent more than 1,300 messages to the state legislature in support of this legislation over the course of the two-year campaign.

This legislation (now Act 79, formerly Senate Bill 379) will protect most physician apologies except for admissions of negligence, which would remain admissible. It removes a barrier to open communication between physicians and patients after a poor outcome, which is essential to maintaining the physician-patient relationship.

It does not take any legal right away from injured patients or impair their ability to file a personal injury action against a health care provider should they choose to do so. It also does not limit the amount that a patient can recover in such an action.

Thank Pennsylvania’s legislators for unanimously voting yes on this bill.

In particular, PAMED appreciates the work of the bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Pat Vance, and the sponsor of the House version, Rep. Keith Gillespie. Smoothing the way in both chambers were the majority leaders, Rep. Mike Turzai and Sen. Dominic Pileggi. PAMED also thanks Gov. Tom Corbett for including this as part of his Healthy PA plan announced earlier this fall and his quick action in signing the bill.

“As physicians, it is part of our job—part of our moral and ethical responsibility—to respond to patients and families when there are less than favorable outcomes,” said C. Richard Schott, MD, president of PAMED, in a statement.

“Medicine is not an exact science, and outcomes may be unpredictable. Benevolent gestures are always appropriate and physicians should not have to fear giving them,” said Dr. Schott. “With SB 379 passing, doctors will feel more comfortable doing so, knowing that an apology is inadmissible unless their expression admits fault.”

“Patients and their families just want a health care provider to speak with about what occurred and this allows that conversation, but does not preclude a lawsuit from being filed,” said Sen. Vance.

“We are working toward commonsense legal reforms aimed at bringing fairness, balance, and stability to Pennsylvania’s civil justice system and benevolent gesture is a part of it,” said Rep. Turzai.

SB 379 unanimously passed the state Senate on June 25, 2013, and the state House on Oct. 22, 2013.

Senate Bill 379

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