MEDICAL MISTAKES: Pa. Senator Offers Legislation
"Denouncing the widespread concealment of medical mistakes," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday he would introduce a bill that could be a "prelude to mandating disclosure of medical errors that harm patients," the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. The issue came to light when the Institute of Medicine reported in November that medical errors cause up to nearly 100,000 deaths each year. Specter noted during hearings on the issue yesterday that he wanted to see "what happened when medical mistakes were routinely reported with the results kept confidential; when the reporting was voluntary but the results were kept secret; and -- in the most open scenario -- when reporting ... was mandatory and patients were told of errors" (Gerlin/Nicholas, 1/26). The White House this week rejected mandatory reporting saying it could have "unintended consequences" and argued that a well-designed voluntary system would be more effective. Specter said, "There's a better chance of getting information if you mandate it than if you leave it on a voluntary basis and if you put some teeth behind the mandates and some penalties, there's an even better chance." Lucian Leape, a pediatric surgeon and a member of the IOM committee that issued the November report, said, "People don't want to report because it makes them look bad," and noted that people might be more "forthcoming ... if they were assured they would not be punished." Regardless, withholding information can have severe consequences. Joe Donahey, a circuit court judge in Pasco County, Fla., testified before Specter's committee that after a 10 hour back surgery procedure, which was supposed to last half as long, he came out of the operating room blind. "Never did I hear that loss of vision was a potential side effect of such surgery," Donahey said. He added, "I chose this doctor and this facility because of what I was told and, what I was not told was this physician had three cases of vision impairment in 18 months" (Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/26).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.