Patients remain in danger from preventable errors

Patients today are no safer from harm caused by preventable errors than they were 15 years ago, a leading healthcare expert testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging Thursday.

In terms of error reduction and quality improvement, "[w]e have not moved the needle in any meaningful. demonstrable way overall," testified Ashish Jha, M.D., a professor at Harvard School of Public Health. "In certain areas, things are better, in certain areas things are probably worse, but we are not substantially better off compared to where we were."

"Until we get to the point where the CEO of the hospital is lying awake at night worrying about patient safety, I don't think we're going to move the needle," he added.

To better reduce preventable errors, the Senate should establish a National Patient Safety Board, akin to the existing National Transportation Safety Board, testified John James, Ph.D., founder of the Houston-based group Patient Safety America and author of a 2013 study that found preventable errors cause as many as 400,000 patient deaths annually.

James also called on the Senate to pass a "national patients' bill of rights," which would establish the right of patients to give genuine informed consent, have access to a physician or medical facility's safety record beforehand, have access to the cost of tests and elective procedures, as well as receive evidence-based care and warnings about unhealthy lifestyle choices and off-label drugs.

Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project, called for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to require hospitals to publish individual facilities' infection rates and adverse outcomes such as complications or deaths from surgeries.

"Medicare is the big dog here," she testified. "It could be pushing on public reporting [of hospital outcomes]." Currently, she testified, most of the measures Medicare publishes are concerned with process, such as patients getting the right medication at the right time. Publishing outcome-based measures, such as rates of survival for surgical procedures, would be more effective, she said.

To learn more:
- read or watch the testimony (.pdf)