Friday, November 11, 2005

Legislators may let docs say sorry, but won't limit malpractice damages

From the Des Moines Register:

"Sorry" seems to be the hardest word — at least for doctors who might get sued if they say it.

Legislators wrestling with malpractice issues said Monday that they likely would not be able to cap damages in malpractice lawsuits next year but they might be able to do smaller things, such as let doctors apologize for mistakes without it being grounds for a lawsuit.

A panel of lawmakers charged with making recommendations to the 2006 General Assembly offered ideas mostly aimed at reducing the cost of litigation. The rising expense of malpractice insurance to protect doctors against lawsuits is often blamed for the high costs of medical care.

One proposal would require medical experts to certify the validity of a malpractice claim earlier in the litigation process. Other ideas would be to provide state incentives to help specialty physicians pay for malpractice insurance and to require doctors and hospitals to publicly report errors.

The ideas were not without critics. A lobbyist for the Iowa State Bar Association said the state already has a quick judicial process. An official with the Iowa Hospital Association cautioned that error data can be unfairly manipulated and distorted.

The "I'm sorry" proposal is new to Iowa. The Iowa Medical Society said 16 other states have enacted some form of the law that excludes such statements as proof of liability.

Karla Fultz McHenry of the medical society told lawmakers that studies show such provisions have reduced the number of lawsuits brought against doctors.

"Patients feel better if their physician talks to them about what happened, rather than just finding out that there was an adverse event where something went wrong and not understanding why," McHenry said.

The ideas come after years of disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over capping awards in malpractice cases. Republicans generally support caps, saying it will lower the cost of malpractice insurance. Most Democrats say it limits a patient's right to seek damages. Leaders agreed Monday the caps debate won't likely get anywhere in 2006.

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