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Hospitals Ignore Regulations, Fail to Report Patient Harm from Medical Errors

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A report to be released today by the Department of Health and Human Services found that hospitals are ignoring state regulations that require them to report health care that resulted in harm to a patient, making it impossible for providers to identify and fix the problems that lead to these incidents. Hospitals may avoid discipline when they make mistakes by not reporting, but they also contribute to the problem by failing to identify trends in poor healthcare and thereby do not prevent future patient harm.

However, Department of Health and Human Services experts say that hospitals’ failure to report problems isn’t just because they are trying to avoid punishment; it is also a lack of recognition of regulations on the part of medical staff. In addition, many health care providers view some problems as natural risks associated with certain procedures, making it appear that an adverse reaction isn’t something to report even if it results in patient harm. Other reports from the Department of Health and Human Services find that 27% of Medicare patients are harmed as result of medical care, which contributes to $324 million to the cost of Medicare for one month.

Experts are hopeful that electronic records will help to prevent future healthcare problems and parts of the new 2010 federal healthcare law will encourage hospitals to report preventable medical errors and how they are addressed. Electronic records are better than paper recording of medical errors, since they can be tracked over time and could also be programmed to alert a hospital quality control officer who could monitor patient care. For example, a report could be recorded after a patient received an accidental overdose of a medication but received an antidote that helped them to survive. A quality control officer could ensure that the patient received proper future care by monitoring their condition, while also preventing future similar incidents. Unfortunately, experts also say that only a small number of hospitals are actually interested in the software and most continue to collect information on preventable medical errors after the fact.