QUALITY: Voluntary error reporting system eventually rolls out of Congress

So Congress has finally passed a bill creating a voluntary medical error reporting system. Baby steps six years after To Err Is Human, but I had to turn to Michael Millenson expecting him to be overly cynical.  But do I glimpse a softening, or even some hope for real change, in his comment?  Here’s what Michael emailed to me:

Congress has taken a step with great symbolic weight but only a very modest practical effect and even more minimal funding. While this, of course, is a specialty of our national legislators, particularly in this era of tight budgets — talk big and carry a small stick — the bottom line is that the preventable deaths and injuries being suffered by tens of thousands of anonymous American hospital patients every year doesn’t push very many political buttons. If a majority of both Congress wasn’t comprised of middle-aged men and women with elderly parents, we might not have gotten any legislation at all. Still, the fact that Congress could actually pass a bill related to medical errors sends an important message to health care providers that real oversight from someone outside the industry has finally arrived.

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2 replies »

  1. Gadfly,
    There is nothing stopping you from starting such a fund. Please be careful with your intentions for the tax dollars of others. Taxes represent expenditures that people are unwilling to make of their own volition. I’m an extemist, so you can write me off, but please be aware that everything the government does with our money represents things that people are unwilling or prohibited from doing freely. It is no one’s fault but rather is an expression of the attitude that “there should be a fund…” without the accompanying donation intended to start one.

  2. What I’d like to see is a fund to assist victims of medical errors. The problem with letting doctor’s off the hook is that it leaves a person who has already been harmed – perhaps even permanently disabled – with the bills for the injury. Moreover, the cost to the victim should be broadly defined – for instance, including therapy or cosmetic repair. And a victim shouldn’t have to go into debt and incredible frustration just trying to deal with the bureaucracy to get to such funding: if the effort zeroes out the funding, then there is little point and society has just made the ordeal of the victim *worse*.
    I don’t think such a social cushion can or would totally spare doctors of responsibility for errors. If say a doctor goes into surgery after snorting coke and then tries to carve his initials into someone’s liver, then there should be a way to underscore his responsibility for that. However, I think if there was a system in place to help victims – and acknowledge the traumatic effect on their lives, people wouldn’t be using the legal system to address unintended mistakes.