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Bill Would Put Medical Mistakes Out in the Open

March 6, 2007

A new bill would help Massachusetts deal with what is estimated to be the fifth largest killer in the United States -- medical mistakes. An Institute of Medicine report cites as many as 100,000 deaths and one million injuries in the U.S. every year as a result of unnecessary surgeries, misdiagnoses and medication errors.

Hospitals are not required to report their error rates for these situations, but Paula Griswold, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors says the new legislation is designed to make that information public.

"Public reporting of rates is valuable for consumers to have the information they need, and hospitals should be held publicly accountable about where they stand in reducing those rates."

And what if the worst actually happens? House Bill 2226 would allow hospitals to apologize to patients for mistakes, without the apology being used in lawsuits against them. Marla Stein, who suffered not only through a bout with breast cancer but a series of medical errors, says an apology is all she wants. To date, she has not received it.

"It's really important for me to get on with it, but its very hard to let go of the trauma and the impact that such a situation has had on you if it's not being acknowledged by those that screwed up."

Stein, who also is associate director of development for the group Health Care for All, says she initially was told she was "too young" to have breast cancer. Later, she was given the wrong medication, went through an unsuccessful surgery, had her pathology report misread as well as a second cancerous area overlooked.

The bill would also require hospitals to try to eliminate all hospital-acquired diseases.

Kevin Clay/Jamie Folsom, Public News Service - MA