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Medical Malpractice Data Use Increases

The New York Times published a helpful summary story earlier this month on the new push to use hospital safety data to improve care. Considering the growing safety advocates releasing information on hospital quality, the article is a helpful summary of the available information as well as a reminder of the issues still prevalent regarding the need for full accountability for hospital errors.

The hospital safety data repositories identified in the story are all materials we have mentioned on the blog, including:

1) The Federal Hospital Compare website
2) Rankings from Consumer Reports
3) The Leapfrog Group hospital rankings
4) Rankings from U.S. News

Those interested in taking a look at where Chicago hospitals and other Illinois medical facilities rank should take time to browse this information.

Making It Work
Patient safety advocates know that this data can minimize medical malpractice. The idea is a logical one. Incentivize hospitals and other medical caregivers to improve their services by hitting them where it counts: the bottom line. If medical patients make choices about where to receive services based on published quality indicators, then providers will work to lower their preventable errors.

For this improvement plan to work, two things must happen. First, the data must be made available to consumers. Second, consumers must actually use that data when making health care choices. Right now, work still needs to be done on both fronts. That is because there remain real concerns about the accuracy and reliability of current published data and, on top of that, many medical patients do not incorporate the data into their decisions.

A Long Way to Go
One initial problem is the widespread disagreement about the best way to report and reveal data. Getting to the crux of the problem, the author notes: “Measuring hospital safety is hard. Comparison, of course, requires everyone to be using the same measures – so how to reconcile the many variations hospitals use? And how do we know a measurement actually tells us what we think it does?”

Some data providers rely heavily on hospital self-reports, others do not. Some track hospital acquired infections, others do not. Some consider “reputation,” others do not. While some advocates are working on standardization and best practices, there remains a lack of uniformity with testing which may present conflicting information to patients and obscure their choices. Without clarity, the goal of using the data to impact patient choice and ultimately improve quality is difficult.

Added to the problem are efforts from the medical industry which resist mandatory reporting of information that is of obvious interest to medical consumers. From requirements regarding record compilation of adverse events to individual provider track-records, lobbyists for the industry in both Springfield and Illinois continue obstruct more sunshine attempts. The medical industry often fights back against the publication of more information on the claim that the data is “misleading.” However, if everyone is held to the same standard it is hard to argue how providing more information to medical patients is ever a bad thing.

For help understanding medical malpractice issues in Chicago and throughout Illinois, feel free to contact our attorneys today.

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