A new Pennsylvania law will allow medical providers to do something many take for granted: Say they're sorry for a bad outcome.

In the past, an apology from a doctor or midwife has been admissible as evidence of liability.

The law will finally let medical professionals express their sympathies in the event that something goes wrong in the course of care, said state Sen. Pat Vance, R-Cumberland.

"You know, the practice of health care is often an art, not a science, and mistakes are made," she said Wednesday. "Not deliberately, but made."

Debate over the bill, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Tom Corbett,  has been contentious in the Legislature. Medical professionals have supported it, but trial attorneys have strongly opposed it.

Vance, a former surgical pediatric nurse, worked on the measure for eight years, pointing to research showing that other states with similar laws have seen huge drops in the number of medical liability and malpractice lawsuits.

"This legislation is intended to allow health care professionals – not just in a hospital setting, but in a long-term care setting as well – to say 'It was an accident, I'm really sorry,' " she said.

The law, which will go into effect in about two months, will not preclude a lawsuit being filed over a health care incident, Vance said.