Hawaii Bill Aims to Reduce Deadly Medical Errors

February 14, 2011


Hawaii Bill Aims to Reduce Deadly Medical Errors

Health Committee to Consider Bill to Require Hospitals to Publicly Report Medical Errors

Hawaii hospitals would be required to publicly disclose medical errors that occur while patients are being treated under a bill sponsored by Senator Mike Gabbard. SB 705 is designed to inform the public about a serious patient safety issue and prompt hospitals to improve care and prevent medical harm. The bill will be considered by the Committee on Health on Monday, February 14, at 4:00 pm.

“When mistakes are made in the hospital, the consequences can be serious and even deadly,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project (www.safepatientproject.org). “The public should know their hospitals record on patient harm. Hawaii lawmakers should pass this measure to help improve care and protect patients.” McGiffert submitted testimony in support of SB 705 to the Health Committee.

Recent research has found that medical errors are even more common than previously estimated. A November 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General found that one in seven Medicare patients or 13.5 percent experienced serious or long-term medical harm (including infections) or death, while they were receiving care in the hospital. Another 13 percent of patients experienced temporary harm. The researchers estimated that hospital infections and medical errors contributed to approximately 180,000 deaths and $4.4 billion in additional hospital care costs each year for Medicare patients alone.

Likewise, a November 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study in North Carolina hospitals found that one in four patients were harmed by the care they received, ranging from hospital acquired infections, surgical errors, and medication dosage mistakes. Other medical errors include serious bed sores, patient falls in the hospital from inattentive care, and diagnostic mistakes.

Hawaii residents have no way of knowing whether their hospital does a good job when it comes to preventing medical harm. That’s because hospitals in the state are not required to disclose this information to the public.

Under SB 705, Hawaii hospitals will be required to report to the Department of Health when patients are harmed by the care they receive. Hospitals must file reports no later than five days after the event or within 24 hours if the patient is seriously harmed. To ensure hospitals provide an accurate accounting of these events, the Department will compare hospital reports on errors against other publicly available data on patient harm, including periodic audits of medical records.

Each quarter the Department will publish a report disclosing which hospitals failed to report medical harm events and the fines that were assessed as a result. Every year, the Department will submit to the state legislature and post on its web site a report detailing the number and type of medical harm events at each hospital, the level of arm to patients, fines that were assessed and enforcement actions that were taken.

“Disclosing medical errors will enable patients to find out how their hospital stacks up against others when it comes to keeping patients safe,” said McGiffert. “And making this information public will motivate hospitals to work harder to prevent medical errors in the first place.”

More information about medical errors can be found at www.safepatientproject.org

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Michael McCauley - 415-431-6747 or mccami@consumer.org