Connecticut AG wants reported adverse events in the public record

If the state attorney general has his way, hospitals in Connecticut may soon face increased public scrutiny of reported adverse events--joining five other states (Colorado, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Washington) with laws on the books that require specific disclosure of adverse events.

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has proposed legislation requiring that the Department of Public Health (DPH) produce annual reports identifying hospitals and surgical centers where adverse events occur, as well as each facility's corrective action plan. What's at stake? In the year ending June 30, 2009, Connecticut hospitals reported 247 adverse events.

Senate Bill 248, "An Act Concerning Adverse Events at Hospitals and Outpatient Surgical Centers," also would mandate that the DPH randomly audit healthcare facilities to ensure compliance with reporting requirements for adverse events and have the ability to conduct in-depth investigations of reported adverse events. Reporting violations could result in fines of up to $10,000. In addition, the proposal would provide whistleblower protections, preventing facilities from retaliating against employees and others who report noncompliance.

"The current law is a deadly and disgraceful failure, shielding hospitals and surgical centers from scrutiny and accountability and leaving patients in the dark," says Blumenthal. "Gaping legal loopholes keeping most hospital medical errors secret--including more than 116 that resulted in death between 2004 and present--are unconscionable and unacceptable."

Public advocates, including the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety, support the bill. However, hospitals have voiced their opposition, as has the DPH. The DPH opposes the bill as written because it doesn't provide any context for consumers, says Wendy Furniss, chief of the department's Healthcare Systems Branch.  Hospital-specific data wouldn't account for differences in facility size and patient population. "If we reported just raw numbers to people, it would be meaningless," she says. The DPH would prefer to release information on hospitals' collective ability to reduce certain types of key errors, such as falls and pressure ulcers, without citing individual hospital errors.

In addition, the DPH already examines hospital practices. "We're in these institutions several times a year doing an audit, if you will," says Furniss. Hospitals rarely fail to disclose reportable medical errors, she notes.

For more about the Connecticut proposal:
- see the press release
- see the Hartford Courant article