By STEVE TUCKEY, who has written on insurance issues for a decade for several national media outlets.
While all hospitals have some sort of reporting system as a condition of Medicare reimbursement, a study issued by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services found that just 14 percent of errors or accidents involving Medicare patients go reported. The report, based on an independent review of medical records, cited numerous instances where unreported errors led to deaths.
About 9 million patients are harmed by medical errors each year, said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Consumer Union's Safe Patient Project.
"The report confirms what many other studies have already documented. Too many hospitals are doing a poor job of tracking preventable infections and medical errors and making the changes necessary to keep patients safe. It's time that hospitals make patient safety a higher priority," she said.
Some of the unreported medical errors include mismanagement of medications, occurrences of severe bedsores and infections acquired in hospitals.
Nancy Foster, vice president for the American Hospital Association, said the report "provided an important insight into the opportunity to continue to grow the reporting that staffs are doing to help us understand how to make safety even more effective in our hospitals."
Foster said the report acknowledged that the reporting that hospitals are currently doing "is fairly robust". She did not take issue with the findings, noting they tracked roughly with other studies conducted in the area of medical errors. She said they underscored the need for improvement.
The report recommends that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide hospitals with a standard list of medical errors that should be tracked and reported to the agency.
But McGiffert said that hospitals should go further and make available to the public their record of medical errors. The study found that only five of the 293 reports of medical errors in the study led to changes in procedures.
"Public disclosure is what drives change," she said.
More than half of the states have such public disclosure laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, up from a handful at the end of 2005.
Foster said "what information is needed to effectively drive patient safety forward is the critical question."
She noted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an effective method of collecting data on hospital acquired infections "and we have been supportive of the notion of hospitals collecting and publically reporting that data."
While the data would be reported by hospitals, there would be no specific patient identification in the CDC plan that could possibly serve to provide ammunition to the plaintiffs' bar in malpractice suits.
The Office of Inspector General report takes a dim view of public disclosure of hospital reporting errors.
"[The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] should make it clear in promoting the list that listed events do not need to be reported outside the hospital, but rather that the list is a learning tool intended to broaden and improve staff understanding," it stated.
McGiffert counters that these errors need to be reported publicly or else the problem may never be fixed.
"The solutions arrived at in this report," she said, "take us down the tired and worn out path of secret reporting of medical harm."
January 16, 2012
Copyright 2012© LRP Publications