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Clinton Announces Plan to Reduce Medical Errors

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Instead, Davidson said in a statement the plan "has some good ideas, raises many unanswered questions, and requires additional work to become a prescription for patient safety." It's estimated medical errors cost the nation $29 billion annually and that as many as 4% of patients fall victim to such a blunder. The IOM report says medication errors alone claim 7,000 lives a year.

"We ... want to replace what some call a culture of silence with a culture of safety, an environment that encourages others to talk about errors," said the president in his remarks. With that Clinton asked for Congress to fund $20 million on error reduction including a new Center for Quality Improvement in Patient Safety, which would do research and develop a national prevention approach. Many of his recommendations mirror the IOM report.

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.

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