Federal bill promotes apologies and negotiations

January 1, 2006

The US Senate is considering a bill that would establish a voluntary program, in which physicians, hospitals, and insurers can disclose medical errors to patients without involving the courts. The National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act would allow a provider to disclose a medical error to a patient and offer to negotiate an appropriate way to address the issue. The negotiation may involve an apology and financial compensation to the injured patient. If the patient rejects the negotiation process and decides to sue the provider, anything disclosed in the negotiation process cannot be used in court.

The US Senate is considering a bill that would establish a voluntary program, in which physicians, hospitals, and insurers can disclose medical errors to patients without involving the courts. The National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act would allow a provider to disclose a medical error to a patient and offer to negotiate an appropriate way to address the issue. The negotiation may involve an apology and financial compensation to the injured patient. If the patient rejects the negotiation process and decides to sue the provider, anything disclosed in the negotiation process cannot be used in court.

The bill, introduced by Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), aims to capitalize on the idea that "early acceptance of responsibility by physicians who make mistakes often results in patients deciding not to sue," according to American Medical News (10/24-31/05). It is similar to other "I'm sorry" legislation already adopted in more than 15 states. The bill also has the support of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Medical Society of the State of New York.