County officials want to eyeball hospital's peer reviewed cases

Los Angeles County supervisors requested access to two years' worth of peer-reviewed cases at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The county officials' interest in digging into the records doctors at the 377-bed county hospital used to assess peer performance was sparked by an anonymous letter sent to state regulators. The authors of the letter claimed that peer review related to problems at the neonatal ICU was "missing" and that doctors and staff were not meeting to discuss medical mistakes.

After the supervisors asked the interim chief of the county's health services departments for access to peer review records at Olive View in May, hospital officials gave the supervisors' deputies access to last year's peer reviewed cases for the neonatal unit, the Times reports.

The county officials saw that peer reviews were conducted and then asked for a list of all of peer-reviewed cases from the last two years.

At that point, Olive View officials dug their heels in and refused to release more records. They currently are in negotiations with the county's top executive.

Hospital industry officials and patient safety experts say such outside scrutiny of peer review documents could ruin the peer review process, which is designed to help doctors root out mistakes and create corrective plans to prevent them. Instead, the threat of outsiders looking in might make doctors and staff reluctant to report mistakes.

One UCLA doctor told the Times that he feared opening peer review to supervisors could lead to less reporting of problems and more malpractice lawsuits.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina told the Times that she doesn't trust medical staff to police themselves. She said access to the peer review records would help her justify settling multimillion-dollar medical malpractice claims. Over the last four years, the county has settled more than 12 Olive View malpractice cases. Some were multimillion dollar settlements.

The amount the county paid out for malpractice claims rose to $12 million in 2009, up from $8 million in 2007, the Times reports.

To learn more:
- read these Los Angeles Times articles: article 1, article 2, and article 3

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