Positive Outlook - Issue 4.0 - Nov 2013

Apology Bill– Signed by PA Governor Tom Corbett on Oct. 23, 2013 

On October 23, 2013, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett signed Senate Bill 379 into law, which allows healthcare providers to apologize or make compassionate gestures to patients and patient's relatives or representatives without those statements being used against them in subsequent medical malpractice litigation or administrative actions. While the new law applies to "any action, conduct, statement or gesture that conveys a sense of apology, condolence, explanation, compassion or commiseration emanating from humane impulses," it does not apply to any "communication, including an excited utterance, which also includes a statement of negligence or fault ... pertaining to an event." 

While intended to improve physician-patient communication, we are not certain that the law significantly changes existing conditions.  Most importantly, it should not be viewed by a health care provider as allowing unfettered discussions between a health care provider and the provider's patients/families.  Clearly, the law will protect an expression of sorrow such as "I'm sorry for your loss."  Arguably, though, that has always been the case.   At the same time, a statement such as "Looking at the x-ray, I can see that I missed it - I am so sorry for your loss" is a conversation that might be viewed as admissible since missing the finding could be a statement of negligence or fault. 

The text of Senate Bill 379 can be found online here.  Feel free to contact us with any questions you might have on this new statute.