Might Financial Penalties Reduce Preventable Medical Errors?

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Preventable medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. – ranking just behind heart disease and cancer.

In 2007, in an attempt to reduce the harm done by these errors, the state of California tried something new.  The state instituted a system of fines of up to $125,000 for a specific list of errors that can cause “serious injury or death of a patient” whether or not those medical mistakes were promptly reported.

Interestingly, Medicare also punishes care providers by refusing to pay hospitals found guilty of medical errors and there are Affordable Care Act penalties that apply to some medical errors as well.

And while a few states do fine hospitals for failing to report adverse events, California is the only state in the U.S. that both publicizes and fines for these mistakes.

Since the law’s passage, $17 million in fines have been handed out – bringing adverse publicity and presumably shame to 192 hospitals in California.

The result?

Sadly, there has been no significant reduction in medical errors in California overall since the program was deployed nine years ago.  And the total number of errors is higher today than it was when the program started.

Has there been any improvement?

Oddly, California data is a bit hard to parse on that question.  However, the number of hospital acquired infections and severe bedsores has dropped nationally, while mistakes, such as leaving surgical tools inside of patients, have increased.

Interestingly – no federal law requires that hospitals report their errors – and only 27 states (including Connecticut) require it.

Does that reporting system work?

According to the U.S. Office of the Inspector General, only 12% of preventable errors are ever reported – even in those states requiring those reports.

What does that mean for Connecticut?

Looking at the latest data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health (2015), 471 adverse events were reported to state officials.  If one assumes the U.S. Inspector General is correct about the number of preventable errors that go unreported, there were more likely close to 4,000 medical errors in Connecticut in 2015 – of which 3,500 went unreported.

Among the leading preventable errors in Connecticut hospitals were bedsores, falls, organ perforations, and retention of foreign objects – including surgical tools.

Can our physicians and hospitals do better?  Of course they can.  And they must.  These mistakes take and tragically alter too many lives.

If you or a loved one is ever the victim of a surgical error, a defective drug, the improper prescription of a drug therapy, over-exposure to medical radiation, a hospital acquired infection, a fall while in the hospital, a preventable blood clot, a misdiagnosis, or any form of medical malpractice, call a qualified Connecticut medical malpractice lawyer.  A knowledgeable malpractice attorney can help to ensure that your rights are protected.

RisCassi & Davis has handled hundreds of medical malpractice cases over our more than 60 years serving the people of Connecticut.

What’s more, our Connecticut medical malpractice lawyers have received local and national recognition for our handling of these cases.

We have a great team of legal experts dedicated to medical malpractice in Connecticut.    Please contact us if we can help you.  The consultation is free and there is no obligation of any kind.

 

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