News Briefs

Coalition hopes to bridge racial, ethnic gaps in care

Massachusetts General Hospital and Partners HealthCare System have created a center in Boston that will seek to address the deep division existing in medical status between racial and ethnic groups. Mass General and Partners HealthCare have pledged $3 million toward the Disparities Solutions Center. The center will be home to researchers who will seek to bring together health plans, health care providers, and institutions to collect data that show which patients receive what kind of care, and then to use the information to eliminate any disparities that are uncovered.

The Institute of Medicine, in its 2002 report, "Unequal Treatment," found that nationwide, Hispanic and black patients suffer delayed care and higher rates of conditions like heart disease and HIV.

Mass General leaders, in announcing the center, said that after their initial five-year investment they hope that the center will be sustained by grants from foundations and contracts from other hospitals seeking help with disparities projects.

Patient safety act hailed as catalyst for change

The enactment of the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act is aimed at enhancing patient safety by encouraging voluntary reporting of errors by providing legal and confidentiality protections to health care providers. The act was backed by a long list of health care associations and patient safety advocates, and passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support.

American Medical Association president J. Edward Hill, MD, said in a statement upon the bill’s signing that the act "is the catalyst we need to transform the current culture of blame and punishment into one of open communication and prevention."

The legislation creates a reporting system similar to one used by pilots and air traffic controllers who report safety infractions to the Federal Aviation Administration. The bill has been in the works since the groundbreaking Institutes of Medicine "quality chasm" report of 1999, which found that up to 98,000 Americans die each year from medical errors in hospitals.

Under the new law, health care professionals are encouraged to report errors. Patient safety organizations are to be established to analyze the reports, look for weaknesses in the system that may have caused or contributed to the errors, and recommend ways to reduce mistakes. The system is aimed at reducing the number of malpractice lawsuits as well as the number of medical errors.