Penalties increase for preventable hospital mistakes

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a landmark report about how many people die in hospitals each year due to injuries or infections that are easily understood and highly preventable. More recent reports show that there has been little progress in improving such harm to patients despite clear evidence of risk and known methods of prevention. New York residents can take some comfort in the fact that hospitals may now face dramatically increased penalties for failing to take action.

These penalties may finally affect hospitals' bottom lines and force executives to take notice. Experts have theorized that handling preventable errors was simply not a top priority for hospital management because infection rates rarely if ever caused any change in hospital finances or salaries. The new penalty issued by Medicare is set to change that. Hospitals identified by Medicare as having too high of infection rates will be penalized 1 percent of Medicare payments for the year. This can easily add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars of lost income for major hospitals. Many top hospitals have already seen the fines.

While new regulations and penalties will hopefully prevent future occurrences of hospital errors, they do nothing to address errors that have already occurred. Not matter how strict regulations become, no hospital will ever be 100 percent error free. Patients now and in the future need to be able to deal with medical malpractice issues.

When a mistake does occur, an injured patient may in some cases maintain a medical malpractice action against the hospital or specific staff responsible for the accident. It is accepted that people do sometimes suffer unpreventable injury and death in hospitals, so a lawsuit is successful only if negligence can be proven.

Source: Warrick Publishing, "Hospital mistakes still kill too many", Trucy Lieberman, Rural Health News Service, Feb. 20, 2015

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