New Program for Patients to Report Medical Errors

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Medical error represents the sixth leading cause of preventable death and disability in the United States. Understanding and ultimately reducing the number of medical complications, mistakes and unsafe practices requires an easy and effective program for reporting these types of events. It is nearly impossible to improve upon or even manage what is not measured consistently.

Until recently, there was no mechanism for a patient or a patient’s family to report an adverse event, a mistake or complication from his or her medical care or hospitalization (a few private sector, direct-to-consumer, medication adverse events registries have sprung up recently). Since only physicians and other healthcare providers could make those reports, and because reporting is voluntary, those data have not been reported consistently.

The Obama Administration and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced a new federal pilot program that allows patients to report medical mistakes or unsafe practices directly to a registry.The data will then be analyzed by independent data analytics and healthcare experts to determine trends and recommend improvements.

According to the New York Times, the new registry will ask patients what happened, the details of the event and try to ascertain the cause of the event by asking about the contributing factors such as:

  • “A doctor, nurse or other health care provider did not communicate well with the patient or the patient’s family.”
  • “A health care provider didn’t respect the patient’s race, language or culture.”
  • “A health care provider didn’t seem to care about the patient.”
  • “A health care provider was too busy.”
  • “A health care provider didn’t spend enough time with the patient.”
  • “Health care providers failed to work together.”
  • “Health care providers were not aware of care received someplace else”

The administration hopes these data can be used to reduce medical errors, improve patient safety and medical outcomes and ultimately, save money.  While some physicians worry that patients are not sufficiently educated to understand the differences between an expected complication and a medical error, others laud the wealth of information and data that will be gathered.

As a family member of a patient who experienced multiple, life-threatening, medical errors and unsafe practices during a particular hospital stay, I think it’s about time.  What do you think?


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