Facebook Page Gathers Stories of Medical Harm

Cheryl Clark, May 24, 2012

As if Facebook didn't grab enough headlines on Wall Street this week, the social media forum is also making healthcare news that should prompt any leader to pay close attention.

ProPublica, the two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning newsroom that collaborates with other media outlets for investigative journalism, a few days ago launched its Facebook "Patient Harm Community."

People can sign up and post a healthcare horror story in graphic detail. Journalists are joining to find patients in their communities who have details to share. There's a special "Files" page entitled "What to do if you've been harmed," which instructs patients on where and how to lodge complaints about doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Even some healthcare providers are weighing in.

ProPublica's Marshall Allen, who uncovered systemic poor quality in Nevada hospitals for a 2010 series in the Las Vegas Sun called Do No Harm, and himself a Pulitzer finalist, explains what prompted the Facebook venture.

For starters, he says, the one million people—a staggering number—who suffer injuries, infections, and errors in healthcare facilities across the country each year had very few places to turn for advice, until now.

"Over the years, I've talked to scores of patients who have been harmed while undergoing medical care, and the one thing that always struck me is the fact they feel so alone," he says.

"When they suffer this type of harm, they complain to doctors and hospital officials and regulators, but they often don't feel that they're being listened to.

"I wanted to find a way to give these folks an opportunity to talk to one another, offer advice, encouragement, and comfort, and get questions answered. A lot of them are at different stages of the process of working through the things that happened to them."

Healthcare professionals especially should pay attention to what's said on this site, he says, because it might illuminate what a patient with a bad episode of care really goes through. They should join in the conversation.

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