The Challenges to Transparency in Reporting Medical Errors : Journal of Patient Safety

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The Challenges to Transparency in Reporting Medical Errors

Paterick, Zachary R.; Paterick, Barbara B. JD; Waterhouse, Blake E. MD, MBA; Paterick, Timothy E. MD, JD, MBA

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Journal of Patient Safety 5(4):p 205-209, December 2009. | DOI: 10.1097/PTS.0b013e3181be2a88


In an ideal health care environment, physicians and health care organizations would acknowledge and factually report all medical errors and "near misses" in an effort to improve future patient safety by better identifying systemic safety lapses. Truth must permeate the health care system to achieve the goal of transparency. The Institute of Medicine has estimated that 44,000 to 98,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors. Improving the reporting of medical errors and near misses is essential for better prevention of medical errors and thus increasing patient safety. Higher rates of reporting can permit identification of the root causes of errors and create improved processes that can significantly reduce errors in future patient care. Multiple barriers exist with respect to reporting medical errors, despite the ethical and various professional, regulatory, and legislative expectations and requirements generating this obligation. As long as physicians perceive that they are at risk for sanctions, malpractice claims, and unpredictable compensation of injured patients as determined by the United States' tort law system, legislative or regulative reform is unlikely to affect the underreporting of medical errors, and patient safety cannot benefit from the lessons derived from past medical errors and near misses. A new infrastructure for creating patient safety systems, as identified in the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 is needed. A patient compensation system guided by an administrative health court that includes some form of no-fault insurance must be studied to identify benefits and risks. Most urgent is the development of a reporting system for medical errors and near misses that is transparent and effectively recognizes the legitimate concerns of physicians and health care providers and improves patient safety.

© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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