The first week of March is Patient Safety Awareness Week, devoted to raising awareness and fostering education about patient safety in health care settings. In the past, the threat of being sued for malpractice kept hospitals and healthcare providers quiet about potential risks and medical errors. Out of fear of litigation, doctors and hospitals tended to be defensive and secretive. However, there have recently been some changes to this familiar pattern. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities have become more open about errors. Even more surprising than this fact are some of the reasons why.
A recent study showed that hospitals that disclose and apologize for mistakes to patients up front actually lower the cost of their malpractice settlements, and the number of lawsuits as well. This has lead many hospitals to create a policy of immediate apology to patients.
And even medical malpractice lawsuits have a silver lining for hospitals. Lawsuits are able to bring to light trends in medical errors that can then be corrected in order to protect future patients. Lawsuits are also being analyzed in bulk to discover error trends and general safety concerns, in order to improve future outcomes. In the same hospital study, it was found that over 95% of said hospitals have created new policies and techniques from information discovered through a lawsuit.
Politicians often advocate malpractice tort reforms, like caps on damages, but this study shows that the health care system is able to be frank about its shortcomings, learn from them, and in the long run actually benefit from malpractice cases.
Patient safety is also looking up in 2014 due to the Affordable Care Act, which has a clause that government payments to healthcare facilities for acute patient care will now be partially based on a patient care grading system. Hospitals that effectively meet patient care standards and requirements will receive correspondingly higher payments.
Last year saw the beginning of these new quality care initiatives implemented as part of the ACA. Medicare will now reimburse providers based on a 12 part rating system, the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program, to improve patient outcomes, such as reducing readmissions.
National Patient Safety Week was established to boost awareness about patient safety and to create a greater focus on improving patient care. It seems like for 2014 at least, there is plenty to celebrate.