New Medicare Policy Mandates Medical Error Disclosure
Federal officials will soon reverse a policy preventing Medicare beneficiaries from obtaining information about doctors under investigation for medical mistakes, ending a two-decade-old rule that has "kept medical errors secret," the New York Times reports. Current rules allow patients to request care review by peer review organizations, which are obligated by law to inform the patient of the "final disposition of the complaint." However, the rules also state that the peer review organization may only disclose information about a physician "with the consent of that practitioner," effectively limiting medical error disclosure to patients. Under the new policy, doctors will no longer have the power to veto disclosure of the investigations' findings. Investigators also will have to tell patients whether they received "professionally recognized standards of health care" and inform them about actions against doctors or hospitals -- information that patients could use in lawsuits. The policy shift comes after Alan Levine, the son of a Medicare patient who died in the hospital after an asthma attack, filed suit against the government. According to Levine's attorney, Amanda Frost of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the current Medicare policy regarding medical errors "violate[s] federal law." HHS officials have since promised to change the policy to allow patients to receive information about medical mistakes. "The revision of our policy is definitely an outgrowth of this particular case. We want to fix the problem and make sure no one has the same problem in the future," one senior HHS official said. While consumer advocates "welcome" the new rules, doctors and peer review organizations -- "powerful watchdog" groups that investigate Medicare patients' complaints -- worry that physicians, fearing potential patient lawsuits, will no longer "cooperate" with investigators. "If doctors know that anything they provide can potentially be revealed, they will be more worried about lawsuits, penalties and a punitive reaction," Dr. Ferdinand Richards, medical director of a Florida peer review group, said, adding, "They will be less apt to come forward with information about mistakes and errors. That will retard the effort to improve the quality of care." Tens of thousands of Medicare patients file quality of care complaints against doctors and hospitals annually (Pear, New York Times, 1/2).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.