President Bush Signs Law Creating National Database on Medical Errors
President Bush has signed into law a bill (S 544) that creates a national patient safety database, the Chicago Tribune reports (Japsen, Chicago Tribune, 7/30). The legislation, which passed the Senate on July 21 and the House on Wednesday, seeks to encourage health care providers to report medical errors voluntarily to patient safety organizations, which will compile and analyze the data. The patient safety organizations will contract with the providers to identify trends and develop proposals to prevent future medical errors.
The data will not identify specific patients, providers or individuals who report medical errors. In addition, patients cannot use the data as evidence in medical malpractice lawsuits or other litigation, and accrediting bodies or regulators cannot use the data to take action against providers (California Healthline, 7/28). Bush said that "by providing doctors with information about what treatments work and what treatments cause problems, we will reduce medical errors that injure and cause the deaths of thousands of Americans each year."
J. Edward Hill, president of the American Medical Association, said the law is "the catalyst we need to transform the current culture of blame and punishment into one of open communication and prevention." He added, "Future errors can be avoided as we learn from past mistakes. This law strikes the proper balance between confidentiality and the need to ensure responsibility throughout the health care system."
However, some observers said the law does not guarantee that providers will report mistakes and others criticized the legislation for failing to include federal penalties for mistakes, according to the Tribune. Margaret Van Amringe, vice president for public policy and government relations for the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, said, "There's no incentive to report useful information if you know it is going to be used against you. If you don't have the information then you are not going to solve the problem." JCAHO said it might be one of the groups charged with creating a subsidiary "patient safety organization" (Chicago Tribune, 7/30).