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Is The Government Hiding Medical Mistake Data From Patients?

The actual number of medical mistakes that result in injury or death to patients is difficult to nail down. Some doctors fail to report mistakes for fear that they will be held accountable for taking short cuts. Coroners may not be required to list “medical error” as the cause of death, making it hard to know how many people are dying unnecessarily. However, according to a news report, Pennsylvania is tracking deadly medical mistakes but it does not allow public access to those records.

In Pennsylvania, the Patient Safety Authority collects information on possible medical mistakes, adverse events, and “near misses.” The state collects hundreds of thousands of reports from designated safety officers at medical facilities across the state. State health authorities then use this information to compile data on medical mistakes and other related health data.

According to the information collected, more than 250 people died because of medical errors. Of the 239,000 reported incidents, 97% were “near misses.” These incidents may not have resulted in serious harm or death to the patient, but they were reported as lapses in safety protocols that could have led to more serious damage.

Over 7,700 other reported incidents were categorized as “serious events.” Although the patient did not die as a result of these adverse events, the patient was harmed. This included complications from treatment, medications, or tests, as well as medication errors, falls, and other lapses in safety protocol leading to patient injury.

For patients and their families, this information could prove helpful to understanding why a patient was injured. These records could provide insight to determine if the injury was due to a medical error, or see if the doctor was forthright with telling the patient what really happened. Unfortunately, the state will not just let anyone see these records of medical errors and “near misses.”

The 2002 law that created this record-keeping of cautionary medical incidents provides that only the statistics can be released. The specifics of each medical mistake are not available for patients or their attorneys to access. The names of the doctors, surgeons, and nurses involved in the medical errors are deleted before the reports are submitted.

According to Dr. Rachel Levine, chair of the Patient Safety Authority’s Board of Directors, the role of the authority is to gather data, not to penalized the doctors involved. “I think the idea is to increase facilities’ reporting,” said Levine. “We want to work with them to help improve patient safety. We are not a watchdog.”

While it is important for doctors, nurses, and other medical staff to feel comfortable reporting errors, it is also important for patients and their families to understand what happened when something goes wrong. Lack of communication between patients and doctors often makes a medical error worse, as patients search for answers or accountability, only to be given the brush off. If you or a loved one have been injured as the result of a medical mistake, the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of filing a malpractice claim. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting you compensated, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 

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