Doctors talking privately to patients or families after a medical mishap could acknowledge responsibility or even admit a mistake without that conversation being used against them later in court, according to a proposal in the Ohio General Assembly pushed by physicians.
Ohio's legislation is similar to a bill pending in Congress. States with similar laws include Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts and South Carolina, said Tim Maglione, a lobbyist for the Ohio State Medical Association.
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Encouraging such discussions could reduce malpractice lawsuits, since patients often sue to get answers, Maglione said.
"When patients do get this explanation and they do get answers, a lot of times that's really all they want," Maglione said. "That will, we hope, prevent unnecessary litigation."
The bill passed the GOP-controlled state House along party lines last week and is expected to get hearings in the Senate before the end of December's lame-duck session.
The legislation sponsored by Rep. Peter Stautberg, a Cincinnati Republican, expands Ohio's current "I'm Sorry" law, which already shields apologies by doctors. Nothing in the bill would prevent patients or families from suing after hearing apologies or other admissions, Maglione said.
The bill is opposed by trial attorneys, who represent people injured by medical mistakes.
The legislation is unethical and could even lead to perjury as doctors who admitted mistakes during private conversations won't have to confirm such conversations under oath in a courtroom, said Columbus trial attorney Rick Topper.
No other profession is allowed to keep admission of mistakes from a jury or court, he said. And medical malpractice lawsuits already have plummeted over the past decade, thanks to limits on awards and the "I'm Sorry" law itself, Topper said.
"If the doctors are worried about lack of information, put it in the medical records," he said. "Then the patient is going to know what happened."
Topper told lawmakers that a few years ago, a hospital "stepped up to the plate" by admitting responsibility for administering a fatal dose of potassium to a patient, then settling with the family, which he represented. The legislation would discourage such conduct, he argued.
But Herb Schumm, chief medical officer for St. Rita's Health Partners, used a similar example of admitting fault in a medicine dispensing case — a dosing error involving blood clot medication — to argue for the legislation. After hearing about the error and steps the hospital took to keep it from happening again, the patient's family chose not to sue, "because they felt we would do the just thing."