National Patient Safety Board

National Patient Safety Board

Last year legislation was introduced in Congress to establish a national patient safety board to identify and anticipate significant harm in health care, provide expertise to study the context and causes of harm and solutions and create solutions to prevent patient safety events from occurring. That legislation is expected to be re-introduced this year.

This effort was begun because before the COVID-19 pandemic, medical error was the third leading cause of death in the United States, with conservative estimates of more than 250,000 patients dying annually from preventable medical harm and costs of more than $17 billion to the U.S. healthcare system. Recent data have shown that patient safety worsened during the pandemic.

However, some are questioning whether such a board, if the legislation should pass into law (which is a major question), could really be successful.

One of the biggest obstacles to creating such a board is the opposition of hospitals and medical societies.

According to an article in Kaiser Health News, “… as worker shortages strain the U.S. health care system, heightening concerns about unsafe care, one proposal to create such a board has some patient safety advocates fearing that it wouldn’t provide the transparency and accountability they believe is necessary to drive improvement. One major reason: the power of the hospital industry.”

The article further states, “The push comes as many patients continue to get hurt, according to recent reviews of medical records. The Department of Health and Human Services inspector general found that 13% of hospitalized Medicare patients experienced preventable harm during a hospital stay in October 2018. A New England Journal of Medicine study of patients hospitalized in Massachusetts in 2018 showed that 7% had a preventable adverse event with 1% suffering a preventable injury that was serious, life-threatening, or fatal.”

An example of the power of the healthcare industry was on vivid display last month in Minnesota. Lawmakers there ended up scaling back their proposal to establish a healthcare affordability board that would have had the power to fine hospitals, doctors, and insurers for out-of-control cost growth because of a threat by the Mayo Clinic to halt $4 billion in new hospital investments.

TSCL is all in favor of efforts to reduce the cost of health care, especially for seniors, but clearly, doing so will be a long-term battle and major efforts on our part, as well as broad support among our supporters, as well as the public-at-large is needed if we are to reach that goal.