Health Inc.

California Hospitals Fined $1 Million For Reporting Lapses

You can now find out which California hospitals failed to report serious medical accidents on time.

Reporting certain mistakes within 45 days is required by California law, and offenders face a $100-a-day fine for missing that deadline. The most common mistake that hospitals reported late is allowing patients to develop bed sores, but the runner-up is leaving surgical equipment inside of patients after stitching them up. Hospitals failed to acknowledge that kind of mistake 37 times, according to the data.

The nonprofit news project California Watch, revealed a list of hospitals that lapsed on reporting 260 mistakes — some of them deadly — and were consequently fined more than $1 million. Read the full story.

The list of mistakes provides a rare window into the limitations of requirements for reporting medical errors. Though many states require hospitals to alert officials of mistakes, few ever make the data public.

Even though California is collecting reports, the state doesn't plan to publish its records until 2015. Only a handful of other states, including Indiana, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Jersey already do this.

Ironically, the list of mistakes California Watch obtained include only those that weren't reported on time. The mistakes reported in a timely fashion haven't been made public. All told, hospitals reported nearly 10 times as many mistakes, totaling 2,446, between 2007 and the end of 2009, according to a report from the state that does not identify specific hospitals.

Lisa McGiffert, the director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project, said her group has a public information request in for the full set of records, but that the request has "been sitting for four months."

McGiffert's group said last month that California has lagged in implementing its patient safety laws. She did tell us the state makes available online more detailed documentation of its $25,000 "hospital administration penalties," which are levied when hospitals fail to comply with the terms of their licenses to potentially lethal effect. You can read those full, hospital-specific reports here.

An ongoing series on patient safety by Hearst Newspapers recently explored the information gap patients face when choosing hospitals. The Hearst reporters write, "Americans have more information about the safety of their cars than about the hospitals that treat them at their most vulnerable moments."

The Hearst reporters found that even though states and the federal government collect troves of information about patient safety, the spread of infections in hospitals and medical mistakes, very little is ever made available to members of the public who might use it to make better choices about where they receive medical treatment. Only 21 states identify the hospitals responsible for mistakes when they report data to the federal government. Eight states don't even share their hospital safety data with Washington.

Weaver is a reporter at Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit news service.

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