New law protects physicians who say 'I'm sorry'

In a move geared toward increasing communication and transparency in healthcare, the state of Michigan has passed an "I'm sorry" law for doctors, which will allow healthcare providers to apologize to patients for medical mistakes without fear of a malpractice lawsuit, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Doctors in the state endorsed the shield law, which would facilitate openly expressing sympathy and compassion to patients and families. They say legally prohibiting apologies by healthcare providers for poor outcomes or suffering to be used against them in malpractice lawsuits will improve dialogue in the hospital.

"This bill preserves my relationship with my patients," Dr. Karen Mitchell, director of the family residence program at Providence Hospital in Southfield tells the Detroit Free Press.

Thirty-five states already have "I'm sorry" shield laws in place, and are seeing significant drops in malpractice costs. For example, after doctors admit and apologize for mistakes, the monthly rate for malpractice claims can go from about seven per 100,000 patient encounters down to four and a half per 100,000, according to a 2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, notes DOTMed News.

And at the University of Michigan Health System, which implemented its own "I'm Sorry" policy 10 years ago, the average cost per claim was halved, while patient satisfaction improved.

The new state law, however, does not apply to admissions of medical fault or negligence.

For more:
- read the Detroit Free Press article
- here's the DOTMed News article