Bush Signs Medical Error Database Bill

By M.L. Baker  |  Posted 07-31-2005
President Bush signed a bill Friday allowing clinicians to report medical errors anonymously. The information will be collected into databases maintained by patient-safety organizations and analyzed for clues as to how to reduce mistakes.

The move follows criticism of the FDA that it does not monitor drug safety sufficiently and legislation to limit awards in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The bill signed Friday would not prohibit patients or patients' families from accessing their own medical records or taking other steps to take legal action against health providers.

The bill received support from disparate sectors of the health care community, including groups representing both health plans and physicians.

Doctors want to provide safer care, they said, but they fear being punished for reporting medical errors that they commit or witness.

This bill addresses those fears, and makes reporting completely voluntary. Patient and provider confidentiality would be assured.

In addition, employers and accrediting agencies are prohibited from taking actions against participants who report or gather data.

The Department of Health and Human Services is required to set up a way to analyze the effects of new medical practices and to facilitate the exchange of the patient-safety organizations designated to collect information.

Though these provisions have been criticized as underfunded, most health policy experts relish the opportunity to collect more data.

That information could help identify which events precede errors, in an effort to reduce them.

The goal is not just to learn from mistakes but to teach other health care providers to avoid repeating them.

Click here to read more about a report that doubles the current estimate of deaths due to preventable medical errors.

GE Healthcare issued a statement praising the legislation, saying that it set a good precedent for health IT.

"Opening up the dialogue between the government, health care providers, patients, purchasers, and IT developers like GE is a crucial element in designing national electronic medical records for every patient."

AAHP President and CEO Karen Ignagni said the legislation would replace a "culture of blame" with a "culture of safety."

She said: "This proposal will create an environment that puts patient safety ahead of trial lawyers."

Efforts at reducing medical errors stepped up after a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that medical errors caused 98,000 deaths per year, about twice the number caused by car accidents.

Sen. Jim Jeffords, Ind-Vt., and others introduced similar legislation in 2000. The bill passed the Senate unanimously last year but got bogged down in the House.

The bill passed the house 428-3 on Wednesday and was signed by Bush on Friday.

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