19 Oct 2012

Reporting Medical Mistakes

19 Oct 2012

Have you ever filed a complaint for a medical error? I haven’t, and I don’t think I’ve ever had reason to either. I’m no stranger to reporting wrongdoings to the proper authorities. More than once I’ve turned to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), and most recently to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) to report my bank. But when it comes to medical errors, unless it’s painfully obvious, pun intended, I’m not sure I’d even be aware there was an error, much less know where to report it. Some of us may even be traumatized or disabled as a result of an error and be unable to file a formal complaint, and this is a problem, because how can healthcare be improved if we don’t know when things have gone wrong.

On the heels of the Affordable Care Act, the New York Times reported that the Obama Administration is considering a system for the public to report “medical mistakes and unsafe practices” in healthcare. Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, said of the proposed system, “Patient reports could complement and enhance reports from providers and thus produce a more complete and accurate understanding” of medical mistakes.

In a flier drafted for the project, the government asks: “Have you recently experienced a medical mistake? Do you have concerns about the safety of your health care?” And it urges patients to contact a new “consumer reporting system for patient safety.” The information submitted “would be analyzed by researchers from the RAND Corporation and the ECRI Institute, a nonprofit organization that has been investigating medical errors for four decades.” The Times said consumer groups like the American Hospital Association are receptive, while the AMA had no immediate reaction but said it would study the idea.

There is already evidence out there of patients being harmed while undergoing medical treatment. A review of medical records by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s inspector general found that in a single month one in seven Medicare patients was harmed in the hospital, or roughly 134,000 people. “An estimated 1.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an event that contributed to their deaths,” the IG found, “which projects to 15,000 patients in a single month.”

Lawmakers need to know where to focus improvement efforts if the quality of healthcare is expected to improve, and we can’t improve what we haven’t measured. I have had success with the complaints I filed with the BBB and the OCC, and the key to my success has been persistence. If I feel wronged, I go all the way to the top to rectify the issue. I don’t just want acknowledgement I want accountability for whoever is responsible.

The Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is now accepting public comment through November 9, about the proposed program. You can send your feedback directly to Doris Lefkowitz, the AHRQ reports clearance officer: doris.lefkowitz@AHRQ.hhs.gov.

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