The Star-Ledger

Bill Requires State To Reveal Hospitals That Make Errors

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Star-Ledger Staff

Consumers would gain access to information revealing the identity of hospitals responsible for making errors that jeopardized patients' health and safety, under a bill approved yesterday by a state Senate panel.

The legislation expands the Patient Safety Act, which was enacted four years ago and required hospitals to report mistakes to the Department of Health and Senior Services. The law protects hospital confidentiality because its sponsors believe that encourages disclosure and more attention on preventing errors.

But consumer advocates, including the AARP, argued the law favors protecting hospitals at the expense of patient safety.

The bill (S2471), approved unanimously by the Senate Health Senior Citizens and Human Services Committee in Trenton yesterday, provides broader disclosure under a compromise that hospital groups, the AARP, unions and state officials supported in principle.

It would require the health department to reveal the hospitals responsible for committing what the federal government deems the 14 most egregious mistakes. Those include operating on the wrong body part, leaving a sponge or other device inside a patient's body and allowing or creating a blood infection following surgery.

Medical and health care professionals often referred to those mistakes as "never events" because they are never supposed to happen.

"This bill gives consumers the information they need to know where the safest hospitals are for certain procedures, and would provide incentives for hospitals to redouble their efforts to eliminate these errors," said Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), the committee chairman and one of the bill's prime sponsors.

Patricia Kelmar, the AARP's advocacy associate director, described the bill as a "landmark piece of health care legislation" that would be "a vital tool for our members."

"Consumers will have information to compare from hospital to hospital, as well as their own hospital from year to year," Kelmar said.

The state would cull the information from billing records and publish it in its annual New Jersey Hospital Performance Report and make it available on the state website, Health and Senior Services Commissioner Heather Howard said.

"This legislation would give the public access to hospital-specific reports of serious medical errors and indicators of patient safety endorsed by national experts," Howard said.

The bill also prevents hospitals that made the mistakes — as well as physicians who have acknowledged playing a significant role in the error — from seeking any payment for medical care associated with the error.

Ted Louie, an East Brunswick physician specializing in allergy, immunology and infectious diseases, told the committee he objected to denying doctors payment because sometimes it is hard to pinpoint who — if anyone — is at fault, especially when a patient suffers from many conditions.

David Knowlton, who helped craft the bill and is president of the New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, said steps had been taken to avoid uncertainty.

"The physician would have had to acknowledge responsibility," he said.

The bill advances to the full Senate.

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