Could apologies reduce number of malpractice lawsuits?

    Proposed legislation in the Pennsylvania Senate aims to facilitate conversations between healthcare providers and patients after problems occur.

    The number of medical malpractice lawsuits in Pennsylvania has been going down slightly in recent years, hovering below 2,000 cases a year. New legislation proposed in the state senate aims to reduce that number further – simply by facilitating a conversation. Maiken Scott reports from WHYY’s Behavioral Health desk.

    When her infant son died in a Pennsylvania hospital, Mary Ellen Mannix wanted only one thing – to know what happened. But she says she couldn’t get any answers – and finally filed a malpractice suit.

    For me it had nothing to do about the money. It had everything to do about understanding why this person died.

    Dr. Stuart Shapiro heads the Pennsylvania Health Care Association – he says the new law would allow providers and patients to have a conversation about a problem or adverse outcome, without the fear of law suits:

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    It simply says that if doctor or nurse hospital administrator explains to a patient what happened and why the outcome was less than what everybody had hoped for that statement of explanation can not be used against them in court.

    The bill was introduced by Senator Pat Vance – who believes that an explanation or apology can go a long way:

    Vance: It probably will cut down lawsuits dramatically just because somebody cared enough to talk to them, somebody who believes they have been wronged, instead of a silent treatment somebody is actually talking to them and saying ‘I understand’.

    Stuart Shapiro believes that breaking the silence would be a relief for all parties involved:

    Because it would allow for open direct communication and would therefore allow people to ask questions and for the doctors to communicate in a very open way.

    Shapiro says in other states where similar legislation is in place, the number of malpractice suits went down by as much as 50 percent.

    Mary Ellen Mannix has become an advocate for safety in healthcare in the wake of her son’s death. She founded Pulse of PA.

    headphonesListen to the radio report: [audio:sci20090303malpractice.mp3]

    Get the mp3 »

    WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal