KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Patients And Health Care Providers Seek Improved Quality As Report Shows Extensive Errors

The Washington Post reports on efforts by hospitals to tally their avoidable mistakes and describes "hundreds of incidents of death or serious medical harm disclosed in the past year by hospitals in the Washington region, preventable errors that until recently have not required public reporting. Under laws that took effect last year in Virginia and a few years earlier in the District and Maryland, hospitals must report to health regulators many serious injuries that patients suffer in the course of treatment. The laws are different in each jurisdiction. For example, Virginia's public records identify the hospitals by name, while Maryland's and the District's do not. But they all allow the public to glimpse the breadth of mistakes that health experts dub 'never events' (because they should never happen): sponges left inside patients after surgery, operations on the wrong limb, medication errors, falls that lead to needless deaths (as well as other events). At least 20 states require hospitals to report every incidence of hospital-acquired infection. Patients, insurers and regulators are beginning to use this information to prod health-care providers to ensure that such events really never happen."

The Post reports: "It used to be that if a doctor, nurse or technician was responsible for injuring you, your insurance company was billed for the action that caused the injury as well as what might be needed to treat it. Maryland health regulators estimate that insurance companies paid $522 million last year to cover preventable complications in hospitals, which occurred in 55,000 of the state's 800,000 inpatient cases. Now, following the lead of Medicare, some other public and private insurers are starting to refuse payment -- for example, they won't pay for treatment of urinary tract infections caused by a catheter. It's on the same theory, as some put it, that if a lawn service mowed down your rosebush while cutting the grass, you wouldn't pay the company to replace it. This activity is part of a patient safety movement that is picking up steam across the country, led by patients and family members who've suffered devastating errors and are pressing lawmakers to enforce accountability" (Rein, 7/21).

Meanwhile, Reuters reports on other ways to improve health care quality: "Telemedicine, workplace clinics and finding ways to help people stay healthier may be more important for reforming the U.S. healthcare system than insuring everyone, according to a report to be released on Tuesday. Incentives will be needed to encourage people to change their ways before they develop heart disease, diabetes and other so-called lifestyle diseases that now eat up so many medical resources, consultant Pricewaterhouse Coopers said in the report."

Reuters reports: "The PricewaterhouseCoopers' Health Research Institute team conducted 37 in-depth interviews with officials at healthcare providers, the Veterans' Administration, community health centers and other groups, read other studies and commissioned an online survey in April of 1,000 consumers. They found half of those surveyed would be likely to seek healthcare online. "In Hawaii, more than 1,000 health plan members have engaged in an online consultation with physicians since the service was launched in 2009," the report reads. The Veterans Health Administration has said it has reduced use of its system by 30 percent over six years using telemedicine -- remote consultation, diagnosis and sometimes even treatment using video or online links." Reuters also notes: "One frequently cited problem is the overuse of expensive emergency departments. Half of those surveyed said they had visited an emergency room for a need other than an emergency during the last 12 months" (Fox, 7/20). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.