P.E.I. will soon have legislation allowing medical professionals to apologize to patients when something goes wrong without worrying it could haunt them in court.
The long-standing legal advice given to doctors and other health-care providers has been never to apologize because it could be considered an admission of guilt in court.
But other provinces that have enacted similar legislation have found giving an apology has resulted in fewer malpractice lawsuits.
"I think it does deflate, I guess, some of the anger that might occur in the situation because I think we all have to realize that mistakes do happen," said Deputy Health Minister Keith Dewar.
"Generally they're not intentional; they just happen because we're all human."
Dr. David Knickle, who was involved in a high-profile malpractice suit 20 years ago, thinks it all might have been avoided if he could have apologized to the patient in question.
"Admitting that something, that you made a mistake for example as a physician, and you say, 'Look, I made this mistake, and I'm sorry.' I think that would have a beneficial effect in a lot of patients. It would in me."
But that wasn't allowed at the time, said Knickle, who has since retired.
"The situation, once a complaint was made to you, became adversarial," he said.
"And the lawyers took over, saying, 'This is the way it is. You don't say anything; we will discuss things with their lawyer,' and it was an adversarial position."
P.E.I.'s proposed apology legislation is included in the Health Services Act, which is being revamped. Introduced in the fall 2009 sitting of the legislature, the proposed legislation has passed third reading, but has yet to be officially proclaimed.
Some other provinces, such as Nova Scotia, have created more sweeping apology legislation, which reaches beyond the medical profession into the corporate world.
That could happen eventually, according to Island officials. But for now, only health-care providers would be given apology protection if the proposed legislation is passed.