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Hospitals and physicians not only have a duty to provide competent care, but also to notify the patients if they have been harmed by their negligence. Unfortunately, studies have found that hospitals are putting patients at risk by failing to report medical errors that range from drug overdose to leaving objects inside the patient’s body. It is disturbing to know that patients risk harm from at least one preventable medication error for each day they spend in a hospital bed.

26 states have passed laws requiring hospitals to report mistakes, but the problem appears unresolved because medical errors are still out of control. For example, New Jersey’s 2004 law requires that hospitals report serious incidents, based on "never events" – a list of 28 problems that should never happen. It includes surgery on the wrong patient, an infant discharged to the incorrect person, serious injury from incompatible blood transfusions, and death or serious injury due to a medication error. New Jersey’s health department has received only 1,600 reports since reporting began. Experts have expressed concerns about the lack of reporting by hospitals to reflect the real number of major adverse events. So, how many should be reported? Well, according to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., a review of 100 patient medical charts reveals 40 instances of harm on average.

Pennsylvania, on the other hand, established the Patient Safety Authority and requires hospitals to report events that result in death or an "unanticipated" harm, and near misses. Regardless of state law, mistakes at the hospitals still go unreported. For example, 2 patients required additional surgery last summer after objects were accidentally left inside their bodies, 3 patients had to be sent back to OR to stop excessive postoperative bleeding, and an elderly woman developed 2 open bedsores for being left on a bedpan for at least 4 ½ hours after recovering from a broken hip surgery. Surprisingly, none of these problems were reported by the hospital. Only 4 hospitals have been cited for noncompliance since the Pennsylvania law went into effect. However, none was fined because the state elected not to impose a $1000-a-day penalty for each failure to report. One reason why hospitals are unwilling to report these mishaps is because the law also requires that patients be informed in writing within a week of such problem. So, it seems like hospitals are more inclined to violate the law by not reporting their mistakes just so they save the trouble of notifying the patients – could this be the hospitals’ way of evading lawsuits at the expense of patients’ well-being?

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