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Med Mal Lawyers Shouldn’t Have to Do All the Heavy Lifting

By Byron Warnken, on September 21, 2014

CMS Stops, then Starts Again

Last month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which offers health insurance to 100 million people, quietly announced it was going to stop tracking and publicly reporting 8 medicals errors detrimental to patient’s wellbeing. These 8 included when foreign objects are left in patient’s bodies after surgery and when a patient receives the wrong blood type.

Luckily, in response to the public outcry, CMS decided it would start tracking and reporting the life-threatening mistakes again. Hospitals opposed CMS’s decision, claiming that some incidents are too hard to report reliably. Of course hospitals wouldn’t want the public to know that surgical supplies are left in patients’ bodies up to 6,000 times a year.

Failed Tracking and Reporting

Many hospitals have failed to take the proper precautions, such as instrument counts or tracking technology, to prevent medical error like leaving tools in patients. Though surgeons sometimes leave hardware in bodies, it is more common for the sponges used to soak up body fluids to be left in the surgical sight. Sponges are the biggest problem, accounting for about 70% of lost surgical items (needles account for less than 10%; instruments about 5%). If any foreign object remains in the body, infection and other ills are likely to occur.

A 2012 U.D. Department of Health and Human Services reposed that hospitals in states where reporting is mandatory report just 1% of the events they should. According to the study, of the estimated 6,000 annual medical errors, 1-2% are fatal.

Transparency

There has been increased pressure to make the health care industry more transparent, giving patients access to better information about care quality and costs. If consumers are more aware of the quality gap between doctors, they will likely choose providers who can be held accountable for their performances. If consumers expect health care professionals to provide data on the quality of their work, hospitals and providers will be more likely to improve their services.

Though the health care industry is very far behind on the transparency front, many states have passed their own transparency laws, requiring disclosure of health costs and doctors’ earnings. Some private firms are also disclosing health care prices, and some, though not many, insurance plans are trying to avoid reference pricing, in which employers limit what they’ll pay for an employee’s health care service.

All consumers, no matter if they are insured or how their benefits are structured, can benefit from information on the quality of care provided by individual physicians, medical groups, hospitals and other providers. As such, credible and understandable health care quality information is beneficial for the whole nation.

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