Doctors to Be Required to Inform Patients of Medical Mistakes

Hospitals and doctors will be required starting July 1 to inform patients of medical mistakes or risk losing accreditation.

"In the past, if the patients did not ask explicitly about things ... it wasn't felt [it] made any difference to their treatment," said Dr. Paul Barach of the University of Chicago Hospital. "Information of that sort wasn't told to patients."

It is estimated that as many as 98,000 people die annually because of medical errors — a number so staggering that the organization that accredits the majority of U.S. hospitals, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare, has decided to implement new rules designed to improve patient safety.

Eileen Corin blames the health care industry for the death of her 3-year-old son, who died 11 years ago after a botched tonsillectomy resulted in fatal internal bleeding.

"A whole system did this ... the doctors, the emergency room, the HMOs," she said.

Corina still keeps a small shrine in her home dedicated to Michael, and says that though the new disclosure standards wouldn't have saved his life, she is glad hospitals are now taking steps towards greater accountability.

Dr. Dennis O'Leary of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare argues that because health care is an intensely human endeavor, it needs to be closely regulated.

"Procedures are complex. There are time pressures, and we need to create systems that protect against the occurrence of human error," he said.

But some health care watchdogs are skeptical of the new policy's success, and question whether it will really effect a change.

"You can bet that no doctor, as a result of this joint commission standard, is gonna go to a patient or the family of a patient after a death and say we were negligent, we screwed up, that's why your patient is dead," said Dr. Sidny Wolfe, a private citizen not associated with the commission.

"How much of this is anything other than window dressing?" he asked.