A bill currently is being considered by the Maryland legislature would expand a law that protect a doctors from his apology being used against him in court in a medical malpractice case. Currently, Maryland law states that an apology or statement of regret by a doctor is inadmissible in a medical malpractice trial. That statute, which is found in Section 10-920 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, encourages doctors to apologize for an error. In my opinion, it is a good law that encourages a doctor to be honest with a patient.
But a new bill has been proposed to expand the current law so that other things the doctor says along with the apology or statement of regret also would be inadmissible. This does not make sense. We shouldn’t have to exclude statements from evidence to encourage our doctors to be honest with us. Moreover, the effect of this proposed law would be to prohibit from evidence what could be the only evidence of what happened. For example, suppose a patient becomes paralyzed during back surgery and the operative report and all of the other records surrounding the procedure are silent as to what happened (this is exactly what happened in a recent case of mine). Then, suppose the doctor comes into the patient’s room after the surgery and says “I’m really sorry that you are paralyzed (currently this would be inadmissible) and I feel really bad about what happened (also currently inadmissible), but during the surgery I dropped an instrument on then spinal cord by accident because I was really tired from being out the night before with my medical school buddies at a reunion; I just wanted you to know what happened.” The proposed law would make that last part of the doctor’s confession inadmissible. That is absurd. A copy of an article in which I was quoted on the subject can be found here.
In my opinion, the much better approach would be to enact a law that requires our doctors to tell us what happened when there is an adverse outcome that is significant. This would serve the public much better than a law that shields the truth from evidence.