New NJ Law on Hospital Mistakes
The Bergen County Record
September 23, 2009
We’ve all heard stories of people who enter a hospital for an operation or other treatment, only to wind up worse off after a surgeon accidentally left a sponge inside their bodies or the patient was infected by an unsanitary surgical tool.
Under the law, non-profit hospitals are immune from lawsuits for such mistakes (only the specific doctors who performed the mistake can be sued). This is a wise law. After all, hospitals would not exist in large number if they knew that no good deed would go unpunished.
But at the same time, shouldn’t there be a mechanism in place that allows the hospitals to exist, while also being accountable for how they measure against other hospitals?
Governor Corzine signed a bill into law Monday that does exactly that.
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Thus far, the state has been required only to publish the number of preventable mistakes made by all hospitals, not the data of individual health care facilities. The new law now requires hospitals to report detailed information about their medical errors. The Health and Senior Services Department will publish how often hospital errors occur at each hospital.
Also under the new law, if a hospital must perform a procedure to correct certain medical mistakes or hospital-acquired conditions, it can no longer charge the patient or the insurer for the cost incurred.
The governor should be lauded for signing such a bill into law.
Such required public information will allow the public to make more informed choices about which hospital to use. It will also provide two incentives for the hospital to improve its own safety record: 1) Hospitals know that they will now have to pay the bill for any procedure necessary to correct such mistakes; and 2) they will want to improve their record if they are to maintain a steady source of patient business.