New Jersey Hospitals May Have Their Errors Publicized

March 3, 2009

New Jersey hospitals may soon be required to make public more detailed information on medical errors.

A state Senate committee was to meet Monday to discuss a bill that requires the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services to publish how often certain errors occur at each hospital. But the session was postponed due to the winter storm.

Health care facilities already report preventable medical mistakes to the state and federal governments. But the state only publishes the number of errors statewide, not the data for individual hospitals, as the bill would require.

The measure also would bar hospitals and doctors from charging insurers or patients for procedures where mistakes were made.

Jeanne Otersen, public policy director for Health Professionals and Allied Employees, a New Jersey health care workers union, said the bill would change medical culture.

“I think we’ve erred on the side of secrecy at the expense of our patients’ right to know,” she said.

However, the New Jersey Hospital Association, a trade group, hasn’t warmed to the measure.

Jessica Cohen, the group’s policy director, said a medical mistake isn’t always the hospital’s fault. Hospitals, she said, do not normally charge for egregious errors, such as amputating the wrong limb.

Several insurers already refuse payment for certain mistakes, according to AARP New Jersey, which has been pressing for more detailed disclosure.

But under current state law, patients could theoretically be billed for the errors, said Doug Johnston, advocacy manager for AARP New Jersey. Asked if this has ever happened, Johnston said he has heard of some isolated occurrences.

New Jersey’s Patient Safety Act of 2004 requires the health department to report hospitals’ preventable errors. Two reports have been released, covering most of 2005 and all of 2006.

There were 826 mistakes reported in that time. In 2006 nearly 40 percent of the errors were patient falls, and half of all mistakes that year were attributed to “communication among staff.”

New Jersey would not be the first to disclose hospital-specific errors. Minnesota, for example, tracks 28 categories of mistakes, publishing the data for each facility, said Patricia Kelmar, associate state director for AARP New Jersey.

“These are process errors,” said Kelmar, noting that mistakes often occur because of hospital staff miscommunication. “These aren’t things that can’t get prevented.”

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.