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    Americans Still Focusing on Medical Errors

    By Ori Twersky
    WebMD Health News

    Dec. 11, 2000 (Washington) -- A majority of Americans are more concerned about their health care providers' potential mistakes than the implied risks of flying on an airplane, according to results from a national survey sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

    The results released Monday found that about 70% of people surveyed consider medical errors and malpractice suits to be of greatest value in helping determine the overall quality of their health care providers.

    The survey demonstrates that the media attention to medical errors has helped establish a new agenda, says Drew Altman, president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, of Menlo Park, Calif. "Media attention to the Institute of Medicine story [about the number of medical errors] has propelled medical errors to the forefront in just a short period of time," he says.

    "This doesn't mean consumers aren't getting good care," says Charles Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, a leading consumer advocacy group. But the results demonstrate that public policy has not kept pace with the public's concerns, Inlander tells WebMD.

    Unless lawmakers and regulators now move forward with proposed new laws such as opening the National Practitioner Databank, "we are going to be back here 4 years from now," Islander explains. The National Practitioner Databank is a national compilation of health care information holding such information as the names of doctors that have been sued for malpractice.

    "I think the results about medical errors is striking," agrees Peter Lee, JD, president of the Pacific Business Group on Health, a nonprofit business consortium. But the real story, Lee says, is why consumers still don't use this information about their health care providers to make their treatment decisions.

    The survey, whose results are based upon telephone conversations with over 2,000 adults, found that while Americans are more likely now than just 4 years ago to recognize the differences between health plans, hospitals, and specialists, a mere 12% used any of that information to make their health care-related decisions.

    This "disconnection" demonstrates that consumers are not getting the right information, Lee says. Among the reasons listed by the respondents for not using the available information is that the information was not relevant to their needs, was provided at the wrong time, and did not cover other specifics such as cost. About 70% surveyed also said that they never saw any relevant information.

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