Hospital mistakes kept secret

Despite the shift toward more transparent healthcare, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed some hospital mistakes, such as patient suicides, sexual assaults, and surgical errors, remain confidential in Georgia.

Not only does the state prevent the public from reviewing reports that hospitals submit following such events, but it also withholds all unconfirmed charges of wrongdoing, the Journal-Constitution reported yesterday.

This issue is emphasized by the recent suicide of SummitRidge Hospital patient Matthew Reese, as the details of whether the Lawrenceville hospital was at fault could remain secret.

While such disclosure can protect the privacy of hospital workers, it inhibits patients' ability to discover whether a hospital has a history of complaints, which could indicate inferior care, the article notes.

Georgia hospitals still are required to notify the state of any "unanticipated" deaths from incidents such as suicides, fatal drug overdoses, medical errors, or falls, as well as surgeries performed on the wrong patient or the wrong body part. However, the Department of Community Health's online database only vaguely explains hospital mistakes that violated state or federal regulations.

Georgia's hospital mistake confidentiality contrasts guidelines published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, which urged hospitals to have a clear set of procedures for managing the disclosure process, notifying patients and the public, coordinating follow-up diagnostic testing and treatment, and responding to regulatory bodies.

For more information:
- read the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article