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Medical Malpractice: Government Program Looks For Patient Input

Medical mistakes occur with frightening frequency in the United States. A new government pilot program is exploring a different angle to help improve healthcare by harnessing patient perspectives and reports. If this program is successful, it might be a big step towards reducing common medical malpractice scenarios liked missed diagnoses and treatment errors.

The program plans to ask for voluntary patient feedback on recent treatment experiences. Patients will be able to submit detailed information on a website or through telephone interviews. Since the government is taking an appropriately broad view of care, the program will solicit feedback on everything from obvious treatment errors to patients' perceptions of safety concerns.

One of the reasons that medical errors are so common is that problems often go unreported. Patients may not be aware that an unpleasant experience is actually malpractice instead of just part of the recovery process. If patients communicated these concerns, the results might shed more light on recurring problems.

Although some studies show that up to 25 percent of patients experience "adverse events," the same research showed that many of these problems never show up in medical records.

Missed diagnoses are a particularly dangerous but frighteningly common type of medical error. If medical professionals fail to appropriately respond to indications of a health condition or complication, the results can be life threatening. While medical malpractice lawsuits can help victims recover for the consequences of these errors, it would be better to prevent them altogether.

Source: The New York Times, "New System for Patients to Report Medical Mistakes," Robert Pear, Sept. 22, 2012

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