House Bill Sets Up Medical Error Watchdog Groups

March 13, 2003 ( - The US House of Representatives has given a thumbs up to a bill creating a network of oversight groups to monitor reports of medical mistakes and to come up with ways to prevent such gaffes.

“The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act,” which passed on a vote of 418 to 6, provides for “patient safety organizations” to be health-provider watchdogs, according to a Reuters report. Health-care providers wouldn’t be forced to participate and all data gathered in the program would be kept confidential with $10,000 fines for anyone disclosing the collected information.   By some estimates, health-provider errors are the nation’s eighth leading cause of death.

Congress has been hamstrung on settling proposed mandatory reporting provisions, which are opposed by most health-care provider groups. The less controversial voluntary system has also been delayed for several months while two House committees argued over which of their bills should reach the floor.

The winner was the House Energy and Commerce Committee, whose Health Subcommittee Chairman, Representative Michael Bilirakis, (R-Florida) said the bill “would help us move from a culture of blame to a culture of safety.” The system created under the bill, said Representative Chris John, (D-Louisiana) “will enable health-care providers to learn from past mistakes.”

In its 1999 report estimating that medical mistakes kill between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans each year, the federally chartered Institute of Medicine called for both a voluntary reporting system for minor mistakes and “near misses,” and a mandatory reporting system for more serious errors.