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Nevada Lawmakers Urged to Tackle Medical Errors

January 12, 2011

LAS VEGAS - Infection rates are the kinds of statistics Nevada consumers should be aware of before they enter a local hospital, according to Nevada attorney Bill Bradley. He hopes a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spurs state lawmakers to take action to uncover the potential health risks at hospitals. The report says 180,000 Americans eligible for Medicare die every year as the result of medical errors.

"The hospitals are required to keep track of those, but have always fought vigorously to prevent that information from becoming public."

Local hospitals say they comply with current law that requires them to report "sentinel events" to the state, incidents in which patients are harmed or could potentially have been harmed. However, Bradley believes the reporting system could be improved through better record-keeping and sharing, so consumers know more about such risks.

Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel for the Washington, D.C., group Public Citizen, says Congress and federal agencies should treat the new report as a wakeup call.

"We would support a national, mandatory error-reporting database, where medical providers would be able to look at where the errors are and develop best practices so that they won't reoccur."

Bradley points to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that found hospital quality initiatives over the past decade have not made progress in reducing medical errors.

"In 2004, the health industry convinced Nevada voters that if they limited their rights against healthcare professionals and hospitals the quality of care would go up. And this study proves that promise has not worked out."

Consumer advocates say in addition to the human toll, medical errors cost the nation's taxpayers more than $4 billion a year in additional Medicare payments.

The New England Journal of Medicine report is online at www.nejm.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV