Medical Error Data Needs to Be Public

Medical errors cost lives and money. The prevention of such errors should be an integral part of any substantive healthcare reform in this country. In order to prevent these medical errors, data must be obtained and maintained properly so that healthcare professionals can learn from previous mistakes and how to avoid them in the future. This data must also be transparent. The public has a right to this information. It is of little benefit to the consumer if this type of data is gathered and analyzed but kept confidential, out of the view of the public.

The Wisconsin Legislature is considering legislation that would keep such incident reports from the public. The “Health Care Quality Improvement Act” would prohibit medical error reports from being used in court. According to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Health care systems have policies that require reporting medical errors and near misses, as well as policies that require disclosing medical errors to patients and family members. Ethical guidelines also require doctors to tell patients when they have been harmed by a medical error. But surveys have shown that fewer than half of medical errors are disclosed to patients.”

If medical errors occur, patients have a right to know about them. If this information is kept from them, their ability to make healthcare choices is severely hampered.

In the final analysis, which is more important- a doctor or hospital’s comfort level in disclosing medical errors or patient safety?