August 2, 2011
ATLANTA - On April 25, the Center for Law, Health & Society at Georgia State University College of Law hosted University of Washington Professor, Anna Mastroianni for a presentation on legislation concerning apologies when medical errors occur.
Professor Mastroianni is on the faculty of the University of Washington law school and its Institute for Public Health Genetics, with additional appointments in departments across the university. She has worked in a number of legal and governmental policy positions in Washington DC, including Associate Director of President Bill Clinton’s Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments and Study Direct of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Physicians have a moral obligation to disclose medical errors to patients and apologize for them," Mastroianni said. "However, few physicians do so because they fear it will be used in a malpractice suit against them."
Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted "apology" and "disclosure" laws to provide protection for those conversations, according to a study conducted by Mastroianni and colleagues. "But these laws may not work as intended," commented Mastroianni. "Because they typically apply narrowly, to the actual expression of sympathy, for example, they may actually discourage open discussion of medical errors with patients."
To improve such laws and encourage discussion of medical errors, Mastroianni recommended that laws be written more broadly, to cover a range of discussions and the specific information that research has shown that patients want in such circumstances.
Administrative Coordinator, Center for Law, Health & Society