Government Asking Patients to Report Medical Errors

Patient Alone in Hosptial Room The New York Times recently reported on a new “consumer reporting system for patient safety.” The article details how the Obama administration wants patients to report medical errors and unsafe practices by care givers. The government says that it will use the data collected to make health care safer.

The plan, proposed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, is hoping to enter into a prototype phase this month with the program piloting and beginning to collect data in May. The reporting system involves patients filling out questionnaires at kiosks in hospitals and physicians’ offices that ask them to identify the name and address of the health care provider(s) involved in the error and asks if they can share the information with health care providers “so they can learn about what went wrong and improve safety.” The questionnaires will also ask:
1) what happened;
2) details of the event;
3) when, where, whether there was harm;
4) the type of harm;
5) contributing factors; and
6) whether the patient reported the event and to whom.
The questionnaire will also ask why the mistake happened and will list possible reasons. Follow-up interviews may also take place.

The theory behind the program is that by having patients provide information, a more complete picture is presented of the events resulting in the medical error. And, it is thought that many errors are never recorded in the medical record or reported elsewhere. Thus, including patient reporting of errors may help get a more accurate handle on the extent to which medical errors actually occur. The reports and data will be reviewed by the RAND Corporation and the ECRI Institute.

However, many physicians are cautious about this new reporting mechanism. They wonder about the extent to which this new reporting will be accurate. Many physicians are afraid that patients may be reporting adverse outcomes or complications, confusing them for medical errors. And, many physicians are also fearful that creating such a mechanism for reporting errors may open physicians up to more medical malpractice liability.

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