Studies have shown that malpractice claims decrease when healthcare practitioners apologize for mistakes or negative outcomes. Yet some doctors fear that such an apology could be used against them if there is a malpractice lawsuit. The actor James Woods recently spoke to Rhode Island lawmakers in support of a bill that would allow physicians to apologize without fear.
Woods recounted how his brother, Michael Woods, died of a heart attack at a hospital in 2006. Woods sued the hospital, alleging that the emergency department staff failed to do enough to help his brother. The lawsuit was settled after the hospital’s CEO apologized and agreed to start an institute in Michael Woods’ name.
“This apology was a very effective, pragmatic solution,” Woods said. “Usually, the people who are willing to admit their mistakes are some of the finest people.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joseph McNamara, was friends with Michael Woods, who grew up in Rhode Island with his actor brother. “Sometimes you have to put a face on an issue, on a bill,” McNamara said. The bill would make apologies by healthcare practitioners inadmissible in a malpractice suit, allowing doctors to say “I’m sorry” without fear of repercussion.
The Rhode Island Medical Society and other groups support the bill, but it has faced criticism by some attorneys who fear that it may shield doctors from responsibility for medical errors.