WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is working to create an Internet-based clearinghouse of medical mistakes made by doctors and hospitals, with the intention of helping them avoid such errors in the future.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson planned Monday to announce a task force of department officials to develop the system, officials said.
Health care providers could use the Internet to report information to the federal government, or state and private-sector regulators.
At least 18 states require health officials to report mistakes, and the federal government routinely collects voluntary information from hospitals for research. The rules on how to report errors vary widely, even among federal agencies. HHS officials say the logistics of recording and reporting errors can overwhelm doctors.
``It's like asking your travel agent to memorize the flight schedule,'' said Dr. John M. Eisenberg, who coordinates health quality issues for HHS.
Researchers estimate that mistakes in surgery, medication and other services kill an estimated 44,000 people each year. Recent reports have suggested computerized records could help doctors and hospitals keep better track of the things that go wrong.
HHS officials intended to introduce their idea Monday at a two-day meeting of major medical groups, state health departments and medical software developers.
Addressing recent concerns about patient privacy, officials strongly cautioned that no patient names or other personal information would be transmitted - just records that hospitals and doctors already send to the federal government or state and industry regulators.
For example, a standardized system would encourage hospitals to report when surgery is performed on a wrong limb or organ. Not all state or industry regulators require that now.
Some in Congress have suggested they would not oppose a national information system. The administration has said there is no move to mandate use of a medical error reporting system.
``We can make much better use of information we already collect, and we can translate that information into quality gains for patients,'' Thompson said.
The system envisioned by HHS is not unheard of in other fields, Eisenberg said.
The airline industry, for one, reports errors to a common site and the information is used to alert pilots to the mistake so they will avoid doing the same thing. The Federal Aviation Administration also issues reports on patterns and systemic problems in air safety.
President Bush is asking Congress for $12 million in start-up money for the medical-error reporting system, which, officials say, is part of a larger effort to reduce medical mistakes.
Officials said it is too soon to tell whether the government will help hospitals and doctors purchase computer equipment or meet other expenses for the guidelines.
Thompson said the department also will work to make it easier for hospitals and doctors to report information to the federal government.