Does Public Reporting of Medical Errors Increase Patient Safety or Lawsuits?

KCRG TV reported that Iowa hospitals do not have to publically report medical errors. The question is how this influences patient safety in Iowa.

The hospitals claim that merely requiring reporting of medical errors to the state does not ensure that the errors will be corrected.

Scott McIntyre, spokesman for the Iowa Hospital Association, said to KCRG TV that, "Government regulation does not create that kind of buy-in or progress," and that "it can stifle innovation as providers focus on meeting the mandate and little more."

Minnesota's Experience

In Minnesota, before mandatory reporting was instituted, hospitals were worried malpractice lawsuits would increase. But there was no sudden rise in lawsuits. "If something terrible happens in a hospital, it's generally going to result in a lawsuit whether the adverse reporting system is in place or not," said Lawrence Massa, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association.

Scare Tactics?

Representatives for the health care industry frequently suggest that innovation will be damaged and this somehow could be bad for patients.

The story notes that Dr. Mark Valliere, chief medical officer for Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids, suggests mandatory reporting of errors is not a full-proof way to eliminate them.

Of course, no system is full proof. Moreover, suggesting something won't make a process full proof is a rhetorical trick. It seems hard to argue that transparency is bad for patients.

Plenty of Medical Errors to go Around

In 1999, the landmark Institute of Medicine study, "To Err is Human," estimated that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical errors. Despite many successful efforts, this statistic has not improved much in the following decade.

The Department of Health has begun a program that if meets its goals, has the potential to save up to $35 billion dollars across the health care system, including up to $10 billion in Medicare savings, over the next three years.

Hospital Errors in One-Third of all Admissions

The Journal Health Affairs updated their study from 2001 of medical errors; the news was not good. "Disturbingly, the method picked up ten times more confirmed significant adverse events than other methods-and determined that adverse events occurred in one-third of hospital admissions, even in hospitals that had instituted advanced patient safety programs," they report.

And while better reporting will not full proof the system, it seems that patients have a right to know the types of errors that have occurred in hospitals they may use.