Court rulings could undermine Patient Safety Act, error reporting

Lower court decisions could undermine protected patient safety information and error reporting intended under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005, according to hospital groups.

The national American Hospital Association and Kentucky Hospital Association on Friday filed amicus briefs, calling on the Kentucky Supreme Court to reverse two lower court rulings--Norton Hospitals Inc. v. Cunningham and Phillip Tibbs, M.D., et al v. Bunnell--that narrowed the definition of protected information.

Implemented in 2009, the federal Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act aimed to encourage error reporting in a non-punitive way. As a response to Institute of Medicine's famous report, "To Err is Human," the Act aimed to collect, aggregate and analyze confidential information that providers could share with each other to prevent future errors and wouldn't be used for malpractice cases. The Act also established the Network of Patient Safety Databases, an interactive, evidence-based management resource for providers and patient safety organizations, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research Quality (AHRQ).

However, the lower court decisions in Kentucky limit discovery protections to only "self-limiting analysis," or peer-review discussions involving an error, incident, safety issue or near miss, HealthLeaders Media reported. The limited scope of the definition could mean that hospital data could become public.

The hospital association said such decisions, if they stand, "thwart the Congressional purpose behind the Act," according to the amicus brief.

"If you have a group of physicians whose primary job is to conduct peer review and have open and honest conversations about one of their colleagues, the physicians in that room are likely to engage in that endeavor differently if they know that the words that they use could be used against them in court," Lexington, Ky., attorney Wesley Butler with Barnet, Benvenuti & Butler, told HealthLeaders.
For more information:
- check out the AHA-Kentucky Hospital Association brief (.pdf)
- here's AHRQ details on the Patient Safety Act
- see the HealthLeaders Media article

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