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Doctors Encouraged to Say, “I’m Sorry,” to Patients inUS

Lawmakers in eight states in the US are considering bills that would allow physicians to apologize when things go wrong without having to fear// that their words will be used against them in court.

At least 27 other states have already passed similar laws, nearly all of them in the past four years, according to the American Medical Association.

The wave of "I'm sorry" laws is part of a movement in the medical industry to encourage doctors to promptly and fully inform patients of errors and, when warranted, to apologize. Some hospitals say apologies also help defuse patient anger and stave off lawsuits.

Apology laws from state to state. In Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Maine and 11 other states, doctors can safely apologize to or commiserate with patients or their families about an undesirable or unexpected outcome, according to the AMA.

A law in Vermont exempts only oral statements of regret or apology, not written ones. Illinois gives doctors a 72-hour window to safely apologize after they learn about the cause of a medical mishap.

Boston-based ProMutual Group, which insures 18,000 doctors, dentists and health care facilities in the Northeast, warns its clients against apologies that admit guilt -- even in states that have laws protecting doctors who say they are sorry.

But some malpractice-reform advocates say an apology can help doctors avoid getting sued, especially when combined with an upfront settlement offer.

The idea defies a long tradition in which doctors cultivated a godlike image of infallibility and rarely owned up to their mistakes.

Research has actually shown that being upset with a doctor's behavior often plays a bigger role than the error itself in patients' decisions to sue.

The softer approach has now begun to appear in some medical school courses too. It is drawing interest as national attention has turned to reducing both medical errors and the high cos
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