Law needed so Wisconsin doctors can apologize for mistakes

  • Article by: LA CROSSE (WIS.) TRIBUNE EDITORIAL
  • Updated: March 20, 2013 - 11:19 AM
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Two powerful words truly spoken from the heart often mark the beginning point in the journey of human forgiveness and healing.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s sad to think that fears of lawsuits prevent doctors and other health providers from speaking those words, but that is apparently the case. So again a doctor apology bill may wind its way through the Wisconsin Legislature, authored by Rep. Eric Severson, R-Star Prairie, and Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa. Severson is a doctor, and Vukmir is a nurse.

A bill passed the Assembly two years ago but didn’t pass the Senate. A similar measure passed both houses in 2006 but was vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle.

The latest version of the bill would allow health care providers to apologize, which would be inadmissible in malpractice cases. But trial lawyers are concerned that the bill goes too far by protecting statements that express fault.

We live in a litigious society. Malpractice lawsuits are costly, but they remain an important way for patients and families to recover damages when there is fault.

Not every family or patient seeks a legal remedy simply because a health care provider makes a mistake. Sometimes they just want to have an honest discussion about what went wrong. There is no such thing as a perfect doctor or a perfect patient.

But if doctors are prevented - by either fear of a lawsuit or because that’s what they are told to do because of policy - from talking to patients when a procedure goes wrong, it creates emotional agony and stress on both parties.

Something is wrong with a system where human beings cannot talk to each other. Let’s start by getting representatives from the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin Hospital Association - which support the bill - to meet with the Wisconsin Association for Justice - which opposes the bill - to hammer out a compromise. They should be able to do that without fear of a lawsuit.

Thirty-five other states have figured out a way to create a law that allows doctors to apologize. Let’s figure out a way to do that in Wisconsin as well.

To err is human; to forgive, divine.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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