Medical Mistake Reporting System Could Make Health Care Safer

Victims of mistakes at hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies could soon have a way to report their experiences to the federal government. This new effort could make health care safer for everyone.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is proposing to create a consumer reporting system for patient safety events. Patients and caregivers who suffered or witnessed a medical mistake or "near miss" at a health care provider, such as a doctor or pharmacy, would be able to report the incident to AHRQ through a website, phone line, or hospital kiosk.

AHRQ would use the data in its patient safety research. Reports could also be shared with the providers in order to help them improve. The proposal is just for a prototype, but if successful, the system could be applied nationally.

Experts have found that medical injuries have huge costs, in terms of health as well as dollars. For instance, a 2010 report by the HHS inspector general estimated that 14 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced adverse events during their hospital stays – 134,000 patients affected, at a cost of $324 million, each month.

OMB Watch filed comments supporting the proposal. We think that better data about medical errors, coming directly from consumers, could help to strengthen patient safety and that the data could be even more useful if it's shared. For example, the Food and Drug Administration collects reports from consumers about side effects or quality problems with drugs and medical devices and then makes that data available to the public. Other agencies take a similar approach to problems with consumer products, cars and car equipment, and credit cards.

Once released to the public, data on medical mistakes could be used by journalists, researchers, and online applications to help consumers make more informed choices. For instance, in August, Consumer Reports for the first time published hospital safety ratings. Unfortunately, the ratings were starkly limited: as the magazine explained, the ratings "include only 18 percent of U.S. hospitals because data on patient harm still isn't reported fully or consistently nationwide." AHRQ's proposal could provide fuller, richer data, which would make tools like the Consumer Reports ratings more valuable.

In the 21st century, this kind of proactive, data-driven approach to protecting the public is exactly what government ought to be doing. As we say in our comments:

Disclosing consumer-reported data allows other consumers and their advocates to identify trends, avoid harmful products and services, and address problematic patterns.
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