Clinton Announces Plan to Reduce Medical Errors
Still, it's clear much of the responsibility will fall on the states. "One of the advantages of our counting on the states to use their ingenuity to develop these programs is that we'll have an opportunity to look at how each state implements the program, evaluate them, and see which ones work best," John Eisenberg, MD, director of the Agency for Health Research and Quality, tells WebMD.
Eisenberg, one of the architects of the error reduction effort, says states may use their own medical boards or regulatory agencies to assemble the data. Just before the president's announcement, Eisenberg was on Capitol Hill trying to sell the plan to a hearing of two key committees that will have to give their OK before the plan could be implemented.
"If health care quality were a disease, and it were listed as the fifth or eighth leading cause of death, then people would not hesitate for a moment to call for a major research agenda," Eisenberg told the panel.
The bipartisan appeal of the reform is illustrated by the fact that Sen. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee, was present at the president's rollout along with Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. He and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., have introduced a medical error bill that would, among other things, establish demonstration projects across the country on ways to diminish medical mistakes.
Currently, 23 states have some sort of error reporting system. Once nationalized, the information would be made public, but without specifically naming doctors or patients. "A wrong leg is removed, or a mother dies in childbirth. These aren't secrets. These aren't things that people hide. ... The issue of confidentiality applies at a much lower level, when we make more ordinary mistakes, and people are loath to talk about them," Lucian Leape, MD, adjunct professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, tells WebMD.
President Clinton is hoping to get his medical errors program enacted alongside the patient bill of rights. The net result, he says, would be a reduction in deaths and lawsuits.