Two types of state laws

Apologies for medical errors are affected by two types of state laws: laws that protect apologies and laws that require disclosure of errors. The bill my family has written includes both. Here is a summary of what those laws mean:

Laws that protect apologies

Apology laws (also known as “I’m Sorry” laws) protect statements made to a patient from being used as evidence of an error during a malpractice trial. The reasoning behind these laws is that your healthcare provider will not tell you if she or he has made an error if their words can be used against them in court. States’ laws differ in the details of what is protected (statements of sympathy, statements of responsibility), the manner of communication (oral statements, written statements), and who the statements are made to (the patient, a patient’s family member, a patient’s friend).

Most states have these types of laws. I believe the current count is thirty-six states plus the District of Columbia, according to this summary published in 2012 by the American Medical Association.

Laws that require disclosure

Some states have passed legislation that requires medical errors to be disclosed to patients. These laws establish that patients have the right to know what has happened during their medical care, and that healthcare providers have a responsibility to provide this information.

Seven states had mandatory disclosure laws as of June 2010, according to the paper by Mastroianna et al.. These laws differ in how disclosure must be made (orally only, both orally and in writing), and how soon after discovery of an error that disclosure must be made.


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