Medical Errors and the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act

vWhen it became law in 2005, the federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act was designed to improve overall patient safety by encouraging the voluntary and confidential reporting of adverse medical events such as medical errors.
However, the Act is now embroiled in a lawsuit that challenges the confidentiality provisions of the Act. According to a media report, “The lawsuit was filed in response to Illinois’ Department of Professional and Financial Regulation issued three subpoenas to Walgreens in 2010, seeking documentation of medical errors associated with three pharmacists who were accused of being medically negligent, according to the report.

Walgreens declined to submit the documentation, citing the federal act as protection for medical professionals. The company said the purpose of the act is to provide a safe exchange of information on adverse events to patient safety organizations, which in turn help inform recommendations on how to improve patient safety. Illinois state attorneys, on the other hand, argue the act is being applied too broadly.”
The outcome of the lawsuit has obvious repercussions for patient safety as well as the nature of medical confidentiality and the reporting of medical errors. Some argue that if such confidentiality provisions are taken away or changed, physicians and medical providers will be reluctant to provide data on medical errors.
What should be paramount in this debate is patient safety. While physician reluctance is understandable, they have a fiduciary duty to their patients and the community at large to help reduce medical errors. Medical errors can only be reduced when they are accurately and properly reported so that they may be avoided in the future.