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Doctors may soon have an incentive to fess up when they do the wrong thing. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have introduced a bill to provide liability protections for physicians who disclose medical errors and offer to enter compensation negotiations with injured patients. Medical News Today reports the bill would establish the National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation program.

I will reserve judgment until there can be a more detailed review of the specifics of this proposal. However, anything that encourages physicians to level with their patients is worth a closer look. In my experience, medical errors are not only a “silent scourge” but are often “missing in action” in medical records. Sadly, very few doctors step forward to reveal the truth to injured patients or accurately detail the true facts in the records.

How the proposed program would work: “health care providers would report patient injuries to a designated officer who would determine whether those injuries resulted from a medical error. In the event that a medical error occurred, providers would explain the incident to patients, offer an apology and enter into compensation negotiations. The apologies would remain confidential, and patients could not use them as an admission of guilt in legal proceedings (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28). The program is modeled after similar smaller programs, such as a University of Michigan Hospital System program (CongressDaily, 9/28).

“The legislation would not cap damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, a provision included in a House bill (HR 5) that passed in July but has stalled in the Senate (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28). The American Medical Association supports the House bill, which would cap noneconomic damages in malpractice lawsuits at $250,000 (CongressDaily, 9/28). According to a Rodham Clinton release, Consumers Union, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the Sorry Works! Coalition, the Medical Society of the State of New York and PULSE support the Rodham Clinton-Obama legislation (Clinton release, 9/28). American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists also released a letter that endorsed the bill, but the letter said that the group also would continue to support caps on damages in malpractice lawsuits (CongressDaily, 9/28).”

Senator Obama said, “Instead of keeping patients in the dark, … we should encourage honesty and accountability,” adding, “When patients hear the truth, they sue less. The reward is the settlement, and health care professionals can learn from their mistakes” (CQ HealthBeat, 9/28).

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