Medical liability policy focuses on patient safety

A new public policy report from the Joint Commission argues that the nation’s medical liability crisis puts patients at risk by discouraging reporting of adverse events and undermines learning opportunities for safety improvements.

In Health Care at the Crossroads: Strategies for Improving the Medical Liability System and Preventing Patient Injury, JCAHO urges hospitals to pursue system changes that truly facilitate improvements in patient safety, encourage open communication between patients and practitioners, and strengthen oversight and accountability mechanisms to ensure competency for physicians and nurses.

Many organizations currently are working on providing objective data to support physician privileges and nursing competencies, says Frederick P. Meyerhoefer, MD, a Canton, OH-based consultant specializing in JCAHO and regulatory compliance. "However, at many institutions this is still not yet a mature program that will support this expected oversight."

Quality managers often have difficulty providing such data, even as they assume an increasing importance in the organization, he says.

"It entails taking data analysis to the next level, derived from commonly used larger initiatives such as infection rates and focused performance improvement studies." This will involve a culture shift for many organizations that are not used to providing practitioner-specific data, Meyerhoefer explains. The problem is that many medical staff members still have difficulty accepting evidence-based competency data to support the continued granting of clinical privileges to the practitioner.

"Few hospitals, as yet, have provided the necessary data systems to support internally the initiatives suggested by JCAHO," he says. "Anything that strengthens this process will increase the safety and quality of care provided to the patient."

[For more information, contact:

  • Frederick P. Meyerhoefer, MD, 1261 White Stone Circle N.E., Canton, OH 44721. Phone: (330) 966-6717. E-mail:]