Many unanswered questions about reporting system

There are a number of unanswered questions about the proposed patient report system for medical errors, and one of the most important is how the data would be used, says George B. Breen, JD, an attorney with the law firm of Epstein Becker Green in New York City.

As proposed, it is unclear whether the data could be released in response to a subpoena of a Freedom of Information Act request, he notes.

Breen also questions the AHRQ’s plan to solicit patient comments through kiosks in hospitals.

“If I were a hospital, I’d have a real concern with these kiosks set up in my place of work,” he says. “It almost sends the message that you’re going to be subjected to a medical error if you come to this hospital, and here’s a convenient way to report it. I don’t think that’s the impression that you want to leave. You wouldn’t want a plaintiff’s malpractice lawyer advertising in the lobby of your hospital, and this sends the same kind of message.”

The system also would raise questions about when a hospital is obligated to report a case to its medical malpractice insurance carrier, Breen says. Does hearing of a patient’s report through the federal system mean the hospital is on notice of a potential claim, obligating a report to the carrier? Would a physician have to divulge such a report during the credentialing process when asked about potential or pending malpractice claims?

“Promoting patient safety is certainly a good idea, but I don’t know that this is how you actually get there,” Breen says. “We don’t know how a hospital can interact with this government system that may make inquiries after a patient report. Can you expect that the information is protected, or do you need to speak as if everything you say can be used in court? Do you need to have a whole structure in place for responding to these inquiries?”


  • George B. Breen, JD, Epstein Becker Green, New York City. Telephone: (202) 861-1823. Email: