Posted by Bill Sandweg on 03 February 2015.
Medical malpractice is an unfortunate fact of life in modern hospitals. Errors occur on a daily basis. The good news, if there is any, is that most of the errors don’t actually kill or permanently injure the patient. The really bad news is that hospitals are only reporting fewer than 1 in 5 of the medical errors that harm patients.
Hospitals which accept Medicare payments, and that is almost all of them, are required to report medical errors which harm patients. Medical errors increase patient care and hospital stays and are estimated to cost Medicare (i.e., you and me) hundreds of millions of dollars every month. There are some errors, called Never Events, which are so egregious that Medicare will not pay for the extra care caused by these errors. Of course, if the hospital doesn’t report the existence of a Never Event, it gets to keep the Medicare money. Similarly, if the hospital doesn’t report other medical errors, it is never going to be able to establish procedures to prevent them from happening again.
The Inspector General of the United States Department of Health and Human Services has investigated hospital reporting systems and found them to be sadly wanting. Here is a link to the report. It found that only 14% of the medical errors which caused harm to Medicare patients were being reported, even though the law required that all of them be reported. By way of excuse, hospitals claimed in most cases that its staff merely misunderstood the requirements about what needed to be reported and in the rest of the cases recognized a report needed to be made but just failed to do so.
You can look up hospital performance and compare hospitals on a site set up by Medicare. Of course, the accuracy of the information on the site depends upon the accuracy of the reports by the hospitals themselves. We now know that those hospital filings seriously underreport just how bad things really are. Still, such comparisons are better than nothing and should be used by anyone who will be going to a hospital for an elective procedure. Most doctors practice at more than one hospital. It makes sense that you ask your doctor to do your procedure at a hospital which has the lowest risk of killing you or causing you serious injury. If you or a loved one are injured, however, call an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your rights.