The Senate unanimously passed the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement
Act in July. The House of Representatives approved its companion bill (HR 663)
last March. The bill now moves into conference where the differences between
the two bills will be worked out.
The legislation, which APA supports, would provide legal protections to
ensure voluntary reporting of medical error data by health care professionals
and facilities. The data would be privileged, and confidentiality would be
maintained by state, local, and private organizations designed to monitor and
improve patient safety.
The bill calls for a national patient safety database maintained by the
Department of Health and Human Services to catalog the reports and identify
regional and national trends in medical mistakes.
"When physicians report errors in a voluntary and confidential
manner, everyone benefits. Future errors can be prevented as we learn from
past mistakes," said Donald Palmisano, M.D., AMA immediate past
president in a press release.
He praised Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), chair of the Health, Education, Labor,
and Pensions Committee, and ranking minority member Sen. Edward Kennedy
(D-Mass.) "for working together to do the right thing for patient
The AMA has long opposed allowing public access to a medical error database
for fear that the data could be used in medical malpractice lawsuits."
This legislation strikes the proper balance between confidentiality and
the need to ensure accountability in the health care system," Palmisano
Senate Democrats had delayed passing the bill until they knew that evidence
available to patients under the current legal discovery process would not be
affected. This required technical changes to the bill, according to a report
in the July 23 Congressional Quarterly Today.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and a bipartisan group of
senators including Kennedy, Gregg, James Jeffords (I-Vt.), and Lamar Alexander
(R-Tenn.) will meet in conference after they return from summer recess to sort
out the differences between the House and Senate bills.
The Senate version of the bill, S 720, was incorporated in the House
version of the bill as an amendment, and thus the Senate passed HR 663 in lieu
of S 720.
HR 663 can be accessed online at<http://thomas.loc.gov>
by searching on the bill number. ▪