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Apologies protected for Mich. docs

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | April 21, 2011
For Michigan doctors, it's now safe to say, "I'm sorry."

On Tuesday, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Senate Bill 53 that would not let an apology for a bad medical outcome be considered an admission of liability.

Doctors in the state had pushed for the law, as they said physicians are often reluctant to apologize for fear it would be used against them in a malpractice lawsuit.

A similar "I'm sorry" law is on the books in around 35 states, according to reports. Some hospitals in Michigan, such as Henry Ford Health System and the University of Michigan Health System, already have patient apology policies. The hospitals say such policies can help reduce malpractice expenses.

A 2010 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found after providers admitted mistakes and apologized for them, the monthly rate for malpractice claims fell from around seven per 100,000 patient encounters to four and a half per 100,000.

According to Crain's Detroit, Henry Ford saw the new policy drive down its malpractice expenses, from $45 million in 2001 to $17 million in 2009.

"Sometimes just those two words alone might be what a family wants to hear," Dr. Kenneth Elmassian, a board member of the Michigan State Medical Society, which backed the new law, told Crain's.

However, the new law doesn't apply to admissions of fault or neglect. Republican Sen. Jim Marleau was the bill's sponsor.

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