With Medical Errors Kept Buried, Deck's Stacked against Consumers , a Deck Stacked against Patients Tucson Medical Errors Shroude with Deck Stacked against Patients

By Innes, Stephanie | AZ Daily Star, May 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

With Medical Errors Kept Buried, Deck's Stacked against Consumers , a Deck Stacked against Patients Tucson Medical Errors Shroude with Deck Stacked against Patients


Innes, Stephanie, AZ Daily Star


Preventable medical harm is not an official cause of death, but it is killing up to 440,000 Americans a year.

At that level, medical harm would be the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

But ask any Tucson hospital to give you a list of its fatal medical errors and the answer is no. Try to find any measure of hospital quality, and the results both vary and overwhelm.

Search for safety information on local nursing homes and assisted living facilities and what's available is both limited and fragmented between two state agencies and the federal government.

In Arizona and most of the U.S., a lack of transparency and mandatory reporting laws put the public at a disadvantage when it comes to assessing preventable errors.

While medical malpractice lawsuits may bring accountability in some instances, it's increasingly difficult to sue. The cases that are filed are often dropped or settled in confidence, with no details in the public court record about any wrongdoing or who admitted what.

"We can't study errors in the medical industry the way every other industry does," says JoJene Mills, a Tucsonan and medical malpractice attorney in Arizona for 30 years.

"There's an attitude that this industry should not be exposed to sunlight ... It's shrouded in so much secrecy that we can't study errors and fix them, and the consumers/patients can't make good choices about the hospitals or providers they choose."

Local health experts and hospital officials typically recommend that patients check two sources -- the federal government's Hospital Compare and the twice yearly Hospital Safety scores from The Leapfrog Group.

Both measures have been criticized for having old or incomplete data, scores that are not risk adjusted and information that is difficult to decipher.

"We should all rally around the notion that mistakes should absolutely be disclosed," says Larry Aldrich, former CEO of University Physicians Healthcare in Tucson and now executive chairman of the Employers Health Alliance of Arizona.

"Transparency will allow people to ask the questions, so you have a better dialogue. What drives me nuts about health care is that all our decisions are made through anecdotes and stories rather than data and statistics."

Hospital officials like Dr. Rick Anderson, the chief medical officer for Tucson Medical Center, say serious errors are not the best way for the public to measure hospital safety.

Anderson acknowledges there's no one place for consumers to get comprehensive safety information. His recommendation is that people get a good primary care doctor.

"I am such a strong believer in that strong relationship between a primary care physician or a nurse practitioner and the patient, and really asking those hard questions," says Anderson, who is a primary care doctor. "I just cringe at physicians who aren't willing to talk and really answer patients' questions."

Anderson advocates bringing a friend or family member along when a patient is at the hospital.

"It's sad to say that you need an advocate but things happen in hospitals and you want to make sure you hold nurses and doctors accountable," he says.

"We need to wash our hands. We need to clean our stethoscopes. We need to protect patients and we should not be afraid to have patients observe and hold us accountable when we don't do that."

"One bad event"

TMC reports its most serious preventable medical errors to its board of directors, but the information is not public. It does not report them to any other entity.

"One bad event would taint the hospital with all the good things that we do well. ... Sometimes looking at isolated incidents makes great headlines but does not always make it easy for patients (to decide) where to go for medical care," Anderson says.

"Even the best hospitals in the country have those kind of events. Very few of them report publicly, but the best will make sure they have processes in place to get them fixed. …

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