KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Deadly Hospital Errors Go Unreported

Estimates say nearly 98,000 people die from preventable medical mistakes each year, yet there is no comprehensive system for reporting medical errors, Hearst Newspapers/Houston Chronicle reports. The Institute of Medicine released a report, "To Err Is Human," nearly ten years ago calling for a nationwide reporting system. The Hearst reporters write: "The AMA and the American Hospital Association vehemently opposed an attempt by President Bill Clinton to create a mandatory reporting system for serious errors."

According to the estimates, there have been nearly 2 million people avoidable health-care-related deaths since 1999. "There's a point at which you have to say, 'Is it ethical to allow preventable harm to continue to occur when you know how to prevent it? When do you say enough is enough?'" said Arthur Levin, president of the Center for Medical Consumers and an author of the report. The Obama administration does not support mandatory reporting (Crowley and Nalder, 8/7).

Some states, like Washington, have laws that require mandatory reporting, but in Washington's case, "a one-person office in the Heath Department has no authority to enforce it," Hearst Newspapers/Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. Hospitals face a "public-relations dilemma" because they can be punished for listing mistakes and look bad to potential patients, while hospitals that choose not to report their errors face no consequences at all. In some cases, hospitals like Virginia Mason in Seattle, report more errors than their competition, but may well be a safer – "or at least more honest" – facility (Nadler and Crowley, 8/9).

These and other investigations were produced by Hearst for a series, "Dead By Mistake," that involved 35 newspaper and television reporters, editors and other staff, as well as Columbia University graduate students. "Part of the problem in seeking some solution to the unrelenting number of preventable deaths each year was that there was no comprehensive reporting of medical errors around the country," according to a description of the project. "We set out to gather information not available and/or accessible to the public, or even to health care professionals" (Bronstein, 7/30).

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