Senate Passes Confidential Medical Error Reporting System

July 27, 2004

Legislation approved by the U.S. Senate would set up a confidential, voluntary reporting system under which doctors and hospitals could disclose information on medical errors without fear of legal repercussions.

Sponsors of the legislation, led by Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., said tracking of mistakes and near-mistakes in the treatment of patients would be useful in helping prevent future medical errors.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., cited an Institute of Medicine study several years ago that found that medical errors cause 98,000 deaths a year.

“For even one American to die from an avoidable medical error is a tragedy,” he said. “That thousands die every year is a national disgrace, and an urgent call to action.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a heart surgeon, said these deaths are for the most part preventible “if you improve the systems, and this bill goes right at the heart of improving the systems.”

The bill, approved by voice, must still be reconciled with a similar bill that passed the House last March.

It creates a reporting system in which physicians, hospitals and other health care providers can report information on errors to groups known as Patient Safety Organizations.

Those organizations would be allowed to collect and analyze “patient safety data” and provide feedback on how to improve medical care. Those providing the data would be assured confidentiality and legal protection.

“Fear of lawsuits silences what should be constructive, lifesaving dialogue among health providers,” said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., chairman of the Senate’s health committee and a co-sponsor.

The bill is S. 720.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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