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Medical malpractice? New bill lets Wisconsin doctors apologize

Physicians can have a difficult job, whether they practice in Wisconsin or elsewhere. Their patients rightly assume they will diagnose, treat and cure a wide range of illness and injury without making any mistakes or errors in judgment. Unfortunately, this may not be a realistic expectation. Mistakes sometimes occur, and medical malpractice is not an unheard of occurrence.

Until recently, if a doctor made a mistake, the fear of future litigation could prevent them from offering an apology. It did not matter how sorry he or she was for what happened. A recently-approved bill could help change that. The action would make apologies given by a physician inadmissible and not valid as a form of evidence when introduced in court or administrative hearings.

Proponents of the bill say it provides a way to improve the communication that takes place between a doctor and his or her patients. They say it gives the physician the freedom to apologize for something he or she may feel badly about without fearing judicial retribution. Opponents counter that the change could create roadblocks for people who are attempting to bring about a valid medical malpractice lawsuit.

The bill passed in a recent voice vote held in the Wisconsin Assembly. It will now move forward and be introduced in the state Senate for a vote there. No timeline for when that is expected was available at the time of this report.

When a doctor makes a mistake that causes irreparable harm to the patient, he or she may be genuinely sorry. The ability to offer a sincere apology is one way to start the healing process for everyone involved. It does not, however, erase the damage that was done. Patients, or their family members in the case of a death, retain the right to file a medical malpractice suit and attempt to recover damages for the pain and suffering they are dealing with due to the physician's mistake.

Source: Green Bay Press-Gazette, Assembly endorses bill to let doctors speak more freely, No author, Feb. 19, 2014

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