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Ohio law and a doctor's apology: What you should know

If something goes wrong after a medical procedure, does an apology from your doctor automatically mean that your doctor is admitting that he or she made a mistake? Not under Ohio law.

The state's Supreme Court made a recent ruling that makes this rule crystal clear. A doctor's apology is an expression of sympathy or regret for the patient and his or her family over medical outcomes that didn't go as hoped or planned. It may or may not include an admission that the medical care was below the expected standard of care.

However, even if the doctor does admit to a failing in the immediate aftermath of a medical crisis, his or her apology can't be used in civil court as evidence of negligence.

The ruling is less controversial than many might suspect because it frees doctors up to help patients and their families understand what happened and process their grief when something goes wrong in a medical setting. The doctor doesn't have to choose his or her words carefully in order to avoid handing a win to the plaintiff in civil court.

Without this protection, doctors have been left unable to console patients, own up to their mistakes and often prohibited by hospital policy from saying they were sorry.

Rather than keeping doctors out of court, those tactics often put patients on the offensive -- making them more likely to sue for medical malpractice than if the physician simply admits that he or she made a mistake.

Ohio isn't alone in its stance on physician apologies. At least 36 states have some form of a statute on the books regarding physician apologies -- although Ohio's is broader and more protective than most.

Just the same, patients or their families should be attentive to what a doctor says if he or she is apologizing for a bad medical outcome. There may be information in what the doctor is saying that can help your attorney find out exactly what went wrong and whose fault it was, should you decide to proceed with a medical malpractice case in the future.

For more advice or to discuss a specific case, talk to a medical malpractice attorney today.

Source: Medical Economics, "Judge says apologies can't be used in malpractice suits," Keith Loria, Oct. 09, 2017

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