Research indicates that 25% of patients in and out of hospitals experience adverse medical events. Over the last couple of years, the federal government has implemented a policy of prohibiting Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospital care stemming from medical mistakes. The idea is that the government should not have to pay for medical mistakes committed by doctors and hospitals. By penalizing hospitals for their preventable medical errors, the government hopes this will also encourage hospitals to worker harder at reducing their rate of medical malpractice. In the past, the government has learned about incidents of medical errors in hospital by relying on self-reporting by hospital staff and administrators. The government's latest plan is to implement a system that also allows patients to report medical mistakes by hospitals and doctors.
In a sample flier, the government asks: "Have you recently experienced a medical mistake? Do you have concerns about the safety of your healthcare?" If so, the flier urges patients to contact a new "consumer reporting system for patient safety." Federal officials say information provided by patients will be analyzed by researchers from the RAND Corporation and ECRI Institute. Both entities are nonprofit organizations that investigate medical errors.
The government defines a medical mistake as "an act or omission by a healthcare provider that most healthcare providers would consider incorrect at the time it happened. Some, but not all, medical mistakes can result in harm or injury to the patient." When a medical mistake harms a patient, medical malpractice has occurred.
Medical errors that occur in hospitals take many forms. The most common hospital mistakes include medication errors, anesthesia errors, infections, and communication mix ups. All of these mistakes lead to as many as 100,000 avoidable deaths a year. Some estimates are even higher. Reducing the number of preventable medical mistakes will not only reduce patient death and harm, it will also reduce the number of medical malpractice cases filed every year.
Patient safety advocacy groups applaud the new federal initiative which, for the first time, allows patients to report adverse medical events to the government. The American Medical Association made no immediate comment, stating they needed more time to study the government's program. Whether the program will be actually implemented remains to be seen. Undoubtedly, there are some inherent flaws in the program including whether the patients' perception of a medical mistakes matches the true definition of a medical mistake. However, being able to compare patient reports with the actual medical records could provide a revealing perspective on the circumstances surrounding on adverse medical events in our hospitals.
New York Times, New System For Patients To Report Medical Mistakes, September 22, 2012.