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Obama Administration only supports medical error reporting for infections.


Hearst Newspapers (8/24, Dunham) reported,

"While the White House acknowledges that hospital medical errors are ‘a big and serious problem,’ a senior administration official says President Barack Obama does not favor a mandatory reporting system for all medical mistakes, just for infections."

The Administration argues for this separation because "while infections can be easily documented, not every medical mistake is a clear-cut error on the scale of the amputation of the wrong limb or application of the wrong drug." The official said, "Once you get past the clear cases, it gets a lot harder" to assign blame. "Many of the cases are much more ambiguous." Some supporters "say the White House might simply be making a pragmatic decision to postpone a fight over error reporting."

Hospitals said to be improving medical error disclosure.

In the Informed Patient column on the front of the Wall Street Journal (8/25, D1) Personal Journal section, Laura Landro writes on the trend of hospitals being more open after medical errors. In an effort to avoid lawsuits and eventually improve hospital safety, the hospitals are offering greater disclosure to patients after errors. Landro writes that there is some indication patients are less likely to sue after full disclosure and offered compensation. Landro also recounts specific instances of hospitals disclosing medical errors then creating new programs to avoid the same errors happening in the future. Online, the Wall Street Journal (8/25) also runs a slide show concerning hospital errors.

Cecelia Prewett of the American Association of Justice (AAJ) writes today that trial attorneys support medical reform that improves patient safety and reduces avoidable medical injuries to patients. Her articles are important sources of the real facts about medical errors and patient injury and death.

Hearst News Analysis Highlights Epidemic of Medical Errors – By Cecelia Prewett

Confronting Medical Errors Will Improve Health Care - By Cecelia Prewett

Tort Reform No Cure For What Ails Our Health Care System - By Cecelia Prewett

Reducing medical errors will not be accomplished by taking away patients’ legal rights. You don’t have to be a college professor to see that. Medical errors are cured by better medical training, better hospital procedures, more time spent by the doctor working on the patient’s treatment. The fact that a patient can sue a doctor for sloppy or careless medical work is, if anything, an incentive for the doctor to do a good job. As parents do with their kids, holding a doctor accountable for sloppy or careless work is a good thing. We all live under that golden rule. We have seen 20 years of legislation and court decisions favoring the medical profession and making it harder and harder to hold a doctor responsible for avoidable medical errors. What has that done to lessen injury and death? Even the Wall Street Journal, usually an apologist for the insurance industry and doctors who injure their patients, reports the problem:

Medical errors kill as many as 98,000 Americans each year, according to the Institute of Medicine, a government advisory group. In an effort to improve this record, some hospitals like Baptist Children’s are taking steps to admit grievous mistakes and to learn from them in order to overhaul flawed procedures. That represents a sharp departure from hospitals’ traditional response when something goes terribly wrong—retreating behind a wall of silence to guard against potential lawsuits.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. When will the news media and the politicians come clean with the public and direct the focus in health care on improving the quality of care, not punishing the victims of doctor and hospital negligence by taking away the victim’s rights.


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  1. Rhonda says:
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    I am a registered nurse who works on a very busy surgical unit in OR. I have mixed feelings (of course) about tort reform and the ability of patients to “hold practitioners accountable” with the threat of lawsuit. My experience with many years in hospital care is that the average person has unreasonable expectations of their doctors availablity. Processes that are designed to eliminate medical error and keep physicians involved in care are often creating more distractions for physicians and less patient satisfaction. Case in point. If I have a surgical patient that is asking me for Maalox for heartburn, I am required to page and call the physician for that order, then that order must be verified by pharmacy, for drug interaction etc, (that can take up to two hours) meanwhile the pt is suffering from heart burn, fussing about how they could have driven to the store to buy Maalox and taken it by now. I have of course interrupted a surgeon (perhaps while he has his hands in another human being)for Maalox. I am but one nurse for one patient on the floor. If that MD has 15 patients house wide he may very well receive 18 phone calls during one operation. If he makes an error is it due to his being sloppy or to the system that overwhelms him with minutia? Our health care system has now become a place where “customer service” reigns and common sense has gone to the way side. Hospitals could be much more efficient and safer if they were not trying to be hotels instead of institutions where MD’s run the show. I believe that the majority of medical staff are well educated, caring individuals who are now overwhelmed by the task of attempting to be concierge and doctor. The minor tasking that we drown our physicians in (sign this form sign that form) is so numerous that to truely be diligent in patient care is a set up for failure. The majority of those system implementations stemming from some sort of lawsuit. I know that 98,000 deaths related to medical errors a year is unacceptable. But I have never heard the numbers on lives saved each year by MD’s, nurses and medical institutions. I believe that a multifaceted attack on medical errors will create change, better medical training is only a very small part, adequate staffing and keeping things basic no more calls for minor discomfort. If people are resigned to suffer a bit when they are sick and hospitalized perhaps we can simplify what is a very complicated proffession, and allow MD’s to focus on the critical components of health care, ie which leg to amputate, and if I as a nurse am not being distracted by patient family members who are not happy with the temperature of Granny’s soup, perhaps I could focus on hanging the correct IV medications. In closing, each day I pray never to do harm to any one individual that I care for, so far so good.

  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    While , I’m sure Wayne appreciates you taking the time to address the over all issue, it seems that it is far beyond what is being requested and much beyond what the White House is talking about. There is a big difference between many requests and those events that either happen or don’t happen and lead to death or serve medical consequences. With he Minnesota Affidavit rule , I wouldn’t ever expect an expert to say anything negative about your examples.

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    Rhonda. I agree with your approach.Eliminating needless wastes of time gives more time to do what matters and save lives. I applaud that effort and support it. When I hear an anecdote that doctors and nurses have to do something stupid because of a lawsuit I must tell you that I smell a rat. I am in the lawsuit business and I study and see what is being sued for, and why. I do not see the cases that I hear people talk about from the medical profession. I’m not saying that you are being told to do stupid things and that the reason being given is a stupid lawsuit. I just find that when we dig into those stories they almost always turn out to be myths. Dealing with Urban Myths created by inusrance companies to protect their profits is major problem in this area. We sometimes find that the reason for doing things that may seem stupid to someone is a major cause of injury and that in fact there is a reason. Attorneys like me don’t make up the rules. Doctors are the ones who set the standards and doctors are the ones who say the the 98,000 deaths are due to “avoidable” medical errors. I have spent a huge amount of time in hopsitals across the country and I see, as a major problem, something else you mention. Becvause of low insurance reimbursements the staffs at hopsitals and the doctors have too much to do. Too many patients. Not enough time. That is a major reason for health care problems. I hope we as attorneys can take our fight with insurance to help the doctors and hoipsitals get fair reimbursement. To end this I must tell you how much I admire nurses. You are the backbone of health care and you save many lives and help many people. I hope you are appreciated! Please stay in touch with me. I am interested in what you and other nurses think. I am not anti doctor. I am only interested in preventing avoidable death and injury.