Nearly 90 California hospitals – more than 20 percent of 418 hospitals in the state required by law to report medical errors – have gone more than three years without reporting any errors at all, says the California Department of Public Health.

Considering the fact that a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no change in patient harm error rates over the past decade, it is pretty hard to believe these hospitals are error-free.

Health officials in the state apparently agree, and have instituted investigations into the 87 hospitals apparently claiming no significant mistakes in patient care. They are calling for immediate clarifications – either confirmation that the hospital is indeed error free, or full disclosures and reports of errors.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, patient advocates are saying the lack of reports is an indication that hospitals are unwilling to police themselves.

A spokesperson for the Santa Monica-based advocacy group Consumer Watchdog told the newspaper it is “almost inconceivable” that so many hospitals have been error-free for three years.

State Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), who wrote the medical error law, told the LA Times she was concerned that errors are going unreported. “What are the chances that nearly a quarter of California’s hospitals didn’t have a single medication, surgical or safety error since the reporting requirement became law?” she asked.

California’s law governing error reporting lists 28 medical errors that hospitals must report. These are the types of errors that typically place patients at risk of death or serious injury. After investigating each error, the Health Department can levy fines of $50,000 for the first incident, $75,000 for the second and $100,000 for the third or subsequent error.

But even more money could potentially change hands. Hospitals have five days to file an error report, after which the state can levy up to $100 a day for each day the hospital fails to report. We are looking at three years of failing to report, which could add up to even more money the hospitals could have to find. That’s not an easy thing to do in the health care field, even in the best of times, and these are far from the best times.

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SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, Nov. 27, 2010 http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/27/local/la-me-hospital-errors-20101128

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