Medical Harm Complaint System Could be Quality Data Goldmine

Cheryl Clark, October 18, 2012

A first-of-its kind federal pilot project designed to make it easier for patients to directly complain about medical errors, safety issues, and harm may prompt some doctors and hospitals to blanch.

Might it unleash a gripefest about relatively unimportant aspects of care, like the yucky taste of hospital food, the lack of parking, or meandering laments that one got sick in the first place? A rage against the night?

Are most patients even sophisticated enough about the healthcare system to know a medical error or an unsafe condition when they see one, or how to distinguish it from the natural course of their disease?

With the Office of Inspector General's estimate that one in four Medicare patients suffers harm at the hands of healthcare providers, could this new information really give providers any more information than by now, they must already know?

We may soon find out.

The pilot project proposed by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) intends to give such a harm complaint system a trial run sometime next year, probably in the mid-Atlantic region near Philadelphia. Many say the information it will produce will be a goldmine for quality improvement.

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