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National Reporting of Medical Errors and Near Misses Key to Improve Patient Safety

June 5, 2002

(Washington, DC) Without reporting of medical errors and near-misses by all health care professionals, systemic improvements in patient safety are difficult to achieve, according to the American College of Physicians - American Society of Internal Medicine (ACP-ASIM). "The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act" encourages physicians to participate in voluntary quality improvement, while protecting patient's rights," said Sara Walker, MD, MACP, president of the ACP-ASIM, in a letter of support sent today to Senators Jim Jeffords and Bill Frist.

"If one hospital discovers that changing one process has the potential to save lives, that information should be trumpeted throughout the health care system," said Sara Walker, MD, MACP, president of the ACP-ASIM. "Fear of litigation has driven these types of patient safety discussions behind closed doors for too long."

ACP-ASIM supports confidentiality protections contained in this bill that would encourage providers, patients and other reporters to participate in voluntary reporting systems. These provisions would protect new data collected for the purposes of patient safety, but would not hurt patients' current rights to obtain information from other sources for judicial or administrative procedures. The bill does not reduce accountability in the system and builds mechanisms to improve the quality of care for large number of patients, according to Dr. Walker.

"Collecting and analyzing meaningful safety data is a vital step in improving care," said Dr. Walker. "Some of the most important information will be derived from reports of 'near-misses,' those events that do not result in harm to the patient but could contribute significantly to the prevention of avoidable injuries or death in the future."

ACP-ASIM's ethical principles require physicians to report to the patient any procedural or judgment errors that affect the patient's well being. This principle requires reporting in instances even if there is no improper, negligent, or unethical behavior. The establishment of a voluntary, nationwide reporting system is still necessary to identify opportunities to improve patient care across all health care providers, according to Dr. Walker.

ACP-ASIM strongly supports the bill's proposal that existing mandatory and voluntary reporting systems at the state level be surveyed to identify the successes and failures of these systems. This bill protects states' rights to maintain or create peer review and confidentiality protections that are stronger than what is required at the federal level.

"Enactment of this health care quality legislation would be an important achievement for the 107th Congress," according to Dr. Walker.

The American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine is the nation's largest medical specialty society and the second largest physician group. Membership comprises more than 115,000 internal medicine physicians and medical students.

Jack Pope, (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org

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