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Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and other members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee passed a bill designed to encourage the reporting of medical errors and foster study on ways to correct the problems.

The committee passed the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, S. 720, by voice vote today. Enzi is a cosponsor of the bill, which now awaits consideration on the Senate floor.

Opening Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Executive Session
July 23, 2003

Mr. Chairman, I support reporting S. 720, the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2003, to the floor. This legislation is an important step toward building a culture of safety and quality in health care.

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act would create a framework through which hospitals, doctors, and other health care providers can work to improve health care quality in a protected legal environment. The bill would grant privilege and confidentiality protections to health care providers to allow them to report health care errors and "near misses" to patient safety organizations. The bill also would allow these patient safety organizations, many of which exist in a limited form today, to collect and analyze patient safety data without making the reports and analyses available to personal injury lawyers.

Following the analysis of the data, patient safety organizations would report on trends in health care errors and offer guidance to providers on how to eliminate or minimize these errors. Some of this takes place today, but much more information could be collected and analyzed if providers felt confident that reporting these errors did not increase the likelihood that they could be sued.

Under S. 720, lawyers could still access medical records and other information that would normally be discoverable in a legal proceeding. However, S. 720 would ensure that the analysis of that information by patient safety organizations would exist on a "separate track" that would be undiscoverable.

Errors in medical treatment take place far too often today. Unfortunately, providers live in fear of our unpredictable and unfair medical litigation system, and this legal fear inhibits efforts to address the root causes of health care errors. Without appropriate protections for the collection and analysis of patient safety data, providers are loath to participate in the reporting and analysis of health care errors, which is one of the reasons that health care quality today is not what it could be.

Litigation does nothing to improve quality or safety. The constant threat of litigation instead stifles honest analysis of why health errors happen. This is just one more reason why we need wholesale reform of our medical litigation system. We need to foster alternatives that restore trust between patients and providers and result in fair and reliable outcomes for both parties.

Until such time, however, we need to take incremental steps to create an environment that protects the collection and analysis of patient safety data so that providers can make systematic efforts to reduce health care errors. The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act is one of these steps, and I support reporting this bill to the Senate floor without delay.

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