Explore Baltimore County on Medical Malpractice

Explore Baltimore County writes about a bill introduced by a doctor who is in the Maryland House of Delegates that says, in effect, that if a doctor says he or she is ‘sorry’ for a medical outcome, that apology would be inadmissible in a Maryland courtroom.

I just looked for the bill. I couldn’t find it. But how much do you want to bet me that that is not what “in effect” it says? Instead, if doctors explain exactly how the malpractice occurred and they deny it later, the fact that they have completely changed their story in front of perhaps multiple witnesses is excluded. How is that fair? The idea that the purpose of this bill is to allow doctors to say “Hey, I’m sorry for your loss” is just plain inaccurate.

There is no question in my mind that this bill is well-intentioned. It obviously sounds like a good idea. In fact, there is evidence that patients and their families benefit when doctors fess up and admit medical malpractice. So let’s just move on. Let’s go all George Bush and just go with our gut. Apology = good.

Or… let’s be adults and think it through. Where is the study on how these same patients feel when these apologetic doctors admit to their patients what they did but then can make a farce of the victims and court by denying it later without reprisal? Presumably, they can commit perjury and contradict their previous statements without consequences.

The reality is a sympathetic “I’m sorry” from a doctor, drug company, or even the at-fault driver in a car accident, will make it less likely that a lawsuit will be filed. People are less likely to sue when they are not mad. Doctors should say they are sorry when they hurt someone because of a mistake they made because it is the right thing to do, not because they have legal clearance to do so. Ultimately, I don’t think this law would have a major impact. Good doctors, which are most doctors, will be repentant if they make a mistake. Bad doctors who are not good to their patients are unlikely to apologize because they don’t care enough in the first place. I don’t think a lot of doctors are on the fence on this.

There are two sides to this. So I would appreciate Explore Baltimore County giving both sides of the story which it does not even pretend to do. At the end of the article, it asks “Hey, reader, what do you think?” It is like asking a jury to hear half the evidence and reach a conclusion. Couldn’t the author have at least done a drive-by on this article? Or how about the idea of making failure to disclose what happened in a malpractice case a process tort, an idea I’ve discussed on this blog.