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Lawmakers asked to improve medical injury reporting

About 15 years ago, the Institute of Medicine released a disturbing report on the number of deaths caused by medical errors. Recently, at a Senate subcommittee hearing, a patient safety advocate, who is also a doctor, told lawmakers that protections for patients are no better now than they were when the report was released.

The hearing was called "More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety." The title refers to an earlier study that estimated that each year preventable hospital harm is a factor in the deaths of as many as 400,000 patients.

The doctors and safety advocates who spoke to lawmakers emphasized the need for better tracking and public reporting of patient harm. With that information available, health care providers could better gauge the effectiveness of their quality improvements, and patients could make more informed decisions about health care. Part of the message at the hearing was that a better tracking and reporting system will not take shape without Congressional action.

One patient safety advocate referred to studies indicating that up to 25 percent of patients experienced medication errors or injuries within a month of receiving a prescription. After the hearing, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chaired the panel, pointed out that the third-leading cause of death in the United States is preventable patient harm. Such harm can be caused by surgical errors, delayed diagnoses, missed diagnoses and medication errors.

Clearly, lawmakers and health care providers are aware of the need for improved patient safety. Measures such as a patients' bill of rights and a National Patient Safety Board have been proposed. If such proposals are heeded by legislators, then perhaps the instances of medical negligence can be reduced. Patients who have been injured because of a health care provider's negligence also have the right to seek compensation for damages through a medical malpractice claim.

Source: KNAU.org, "Health Safety Experts Call For Public Reporting Of Medical Harms," Marshall Allen, July 18, 2014

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