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AMA votes to support tracking of medical errors
CHICAGO (CNN) -- The American Medical Association's House of Delegates voted Thursday to support a reporting system for medical errors, but would not commit to supporting either a mandatory or voluntary system.
At its annual meeting in Chicago, the nation's largest organization of doctors resolved to support a "non-punitive, evidence-based" error reporting system that provides strong legal protections for participants in safety programs.
"At a minimum, these protections must ensure that all information reported or otherwise gathered in the process of patient safety and error reporting programs ... remain confidential and not be subject to discovery in legal proceedings," the AMA said.
Last November, the Institute of Medicine issued a report concluding that medical errors kill 44,000 to 98,000 patients in U.S. hospitals each year. It recommended that all hospital errors causing death or injury be reported to the federal government.
In February, President Clinton urged Congress to establish a Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety within the Department of Health and Human Services. The center would require reporting of medical mistakes with the goal of cutting medical errors in half within five years.
But the AMA has concerns about mandatory error reporting, which already is required in some states. Members say fear of consequences prevents many doctors and nurses from reporting mistakes.
In order to work, the AMA maintains, any reporting system must address the causes of the errors and find ways to prevent them from happening again.
"The issue is not mandatory or voluntary," said Dr. Nancy Dickey of the AMA. "The issue may not even be reporting. The issue needs to be what do we have to change so that the system makes fewer errors. And if data collection is part of that, how do we collect data in a fashion that enhances the process rather than diminishes it?"
Another problem with a mandatory system, the AMA maintains, is the nature of most medical errors. Mistakes, they say, are usually systemic errors, not the fault of a single person.
To help reduce errors, the AMA says patients should ask questions to be sure they understand the procedures they are going to have.
CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report
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AMA - American Medical Association Home Page
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