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ACP Applauds Senate Passage of Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act

(Washington, DC): The American College of Physicians today applauded Senate passage of the "Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2003" (S. 720) sponsored by Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee chairman Judd Gregg and James M. Jeffords (I-VT) on July 22. The logjam broke after Senator Gregg and the ranking Democrat on the HELP committee, Edward M. Kennedy, worked out differences about the scope of legal protection. The bill seeks to create a confidential, voluntary reporting system in which physicians, hospitals, and other health care providers could report information on errors to "patient safety organizations" (PSOs). PSOs would then collect and analyze the data to devise patient safety improvement strategies.

"Such legislation will help promote a health care system culture focused on patient safety and continual quality improvement," said ACP President Charles Francis, MD, FACP, FACC. "We urge House and Senate conferees to negotiate their differences quickly and for Congress to make this legislation a top priority when it returns in September. This enactment of this bill would represent a major achievement for the 108th Congress."

ACP believes the legislation will significantly advance an environment in which health care professionals and organizations freely report and analyze health care errors and share their experiences with others in order to prevent similar occurrences.

Only patient safety data as defined in the bill would be confidential and legally protected. Information or evidence that is available from sources other than the PSO (e.g., medical records, billing records, discharge forms) would not be privileged or confidential under this bill. State reporting requirements would not be preempted.

"S. 720 strikes the appropriate balance between maintaining confidentiality and legal protections for patient safety data, and the need to ensure accountability and patients' legal rights throughout the health care delivery system," said Dr. Francis.

In its landmark 1999 report on patient safety, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended the expanded use of reporting systems to analyze and reduce errors in the health care system.

The IOM recognized that reporting systems will not achieve their full potential to foster learning about errors and their prevention without "a more conducive legal environment" in which health care professionals can report errors without increasing the threat of litigation.

The American College of Physicians is the largest medical specialty organization and the second-largest physician group in the United States. ACP members include 116,000 internal medicine physicians (internists), related subspecialists, and medical students. Internists specialize in the prevention, detection and treatment of illness in adults.

Jack Pope, (202) 261-4556, jpope@acponline.org
Jacquelyn Blaser, (202) 261-4572, jblaser@acponline.org

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