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Patient Safety System Becomes Law

Bush Signs Law Creating First National Reporting System
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July 29, 2005 -- President Bush signed into law Friday a bill creating the country's first national system for reporting and tracking medical errors.

The law creates a federally run national database used to collect and study information on medical mistakes and "near misses" that harm patients in doctors offices, hospitals, pharmacies, and other health care settings.

Friday's signing comes six years after a 1999 Institute of Medicine report estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year because of prescribing mistakes and a host of other medical errors.

The bill, known as the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, sets up a system allowing hospitals, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to anonymously report errors to nonprofit "patient safety organizations" operating in most states. Those groups will in turn feed reports to the federal database for monitoring and study by researchers.

Congress debated the system for years but was slowed by concerns from medical groups that such reports could provide ammunition to plaintiffs suing doctors and hospitals for medical malpractice.Reporting Is Confidential

The new law keeps the reports private by specifically barring them from being used in civil lawsuits or in disciplinary actions against hospitals or doctors. It also prevents groups that accredit hospitals or other health care facilities from using the reports when grading institutions.

"To maintain the highest standards of care, doctors and nurses must be able to exchange information about problems and solutions. Yet in recent years, many doctors have grown afraid to discuss their practices because they worry that the information they provide will be used against them in a lawsuit. This bill will help solve that problem," Bush said during a White House signing ceremony.

The signing came one day after the House passed a bill capping jury awards in medical malpractice suits at $250,000. The Senate has not yet acted on the bill.

Physicians groups had long said they supported a new medical error reporting system but insisted on anonymity for the reports and protection from their use in legal action.

"When physicians can report errors in a voluntary and confidential manner, everyone benefits," says J. Edward Hill, MD, president of the American Medical Association.

Dick Davidson, president of the American Hospital Association, called the system "a major step" toward cutting medical errors that injure or kill U.S. patients.

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