A doctor or nurse who observes a medical error or a near miss has long been able to report the problem anonymously under New Jersey’s Patient Safety Act. Kerry Kelly of the New Jersey Hospital Association (NJHA) says that these reports have been tremendously helpful in providing a safe experience for hospital patients, while at the same time safeguarding the healthcare professionals who report the errors.

When a new bill was proposed, one that would mandate public disclosure of hospital errors, Kelly says that the NJHA wanted to make sure that the information from the Patient Safety Act, and the protections that it extended, would remain intact. “We worked very hard with the sponsors of the bill,” she says. That bill, S2471/A1264, was just signed by Governor Corzine. It will require public reporting of each hospital’s patient safety performance and rates of serious medical errors. Part two of the bill, says Kelly, will ensure that patients will not have to pay for procedures that result from medical errors.

“New Jersey is a national leader in protecting consumers and promoting quality health care,” Corzine said in a statement. “Today, we are enacting legislation that represents an important step forward for the health and safety of our citizens. By doing so, we will be helping people make more informed healthcare decisions and helping hospitals prevent medical errors.”

The bill requires the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to publish in its annual New Jersey Hospital Performance Report hospital-specific results on measures of patient safety. These measures, which have been endorsed by national experts, include such serious adverse events as objects left inside patients during surgery, accidental cuts and punctures to patients, and hip fractures suffered in a post-surgery fall.

The data that makes its way into the report, says Kelly, will be taken from billing records but not from any errors that are self-reported by healthcare professionals under the Patient Safety Act.

This bill is the latest in a series of initiatives to improve healthcare quality through public reporting on performance and health outcomes. Cardiac Surgery in New Jersey, which reports on patient mortality rates and other performance measures for both hospitals and individual cardiac surgeons, has helped reduce cardiac bypass surgery mortality by more than 50 percent since reporting began.

“When preventable medical mistakes occur, hospitals should not be rewarded,” said Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D-Camden). “Denying payment for these types of errors will send a message loud and clear: when dealing with matters of life and death we will not tolerate any margin of error.”

The Hospital Performance Report monitors how well hospitals treat heart attack, pneumonia, and heart failure patients, and how well they prevent surgical infections. The numbers of adverse events and rates, by hospital, along with statewide and national comparisons will be included. Fourteen measures were chosen based on the work of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. DHSS also publishes a report on Inpatient Quality Indicators, which are used to measure hospital performance in treating a number of common medical conditions.

“When most people buy a car or a home appliance, they do some research to make sure they’re getting the best deal for their money,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney, (D-Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem). “However, with healthcare, consumers are essentially left in the dark, unaware of their hospital’s track record on even the most basic patient safety indicators which are already collected by the industry and the state. It’s time that we share this information with the public, to let them make the best decisions possible and control their own healthcare destiny.”

The 2009 New Jersey Hospital Performance Report released later this year will be the first to include the newly available patient safety data.

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