HARRISBURG - Medical professionals will soon be able to apologize to patients without it being used against them in court.

After receiving unanimous support among lawmakers in the House and Senate, Gov. Corbett said he will sign the "benevolent gesture" bill Wednesday.

The bill, similar to those approved in at least 36 other states including New Jersey, allows health-care providers - including doctors, hospitals, and nursing homes - to apologize when a procedure does not go as planned.

Currently doctors and hospitals have been forced to take a "deny and defend" stance in cases in which there was an adverse outcome, said Stuart H. Shapiro, president of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association/Center for Assisted Living Management, which represents nursing homes and other care facilities.

"For years, providers have wanted to talk with patients after an unanticipated outcome to express empathy or explain what happened and why but have been afraid to do so because of fear of litigation," Shapiro said.

The new law will not eliminate liability on the part of doctors or hospitals or prevent medical malpractice suits. But research suggests it will likely reduce the number of lawsuits, medical professionals say.

"Medicine is not an exact science, and outcomes may be unpredictable. Benevolent gestures are always appropriate, and physicians should not have to fear giving them," said C. Richard Schott, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society who practices cardiology in suburban Philadelphia.

Both trial lawyers who supported the bill and medical professionals said they believe many patients and families would not have filed malpractice suits had they been given a timely explanation, along with an apology, for an unanticipated outcome.

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