Patient safety must come first!

Copyright 2012

Vital to learn from medical errors

My letter was first published in The Straits Times Forum, 29 March 2013

THE report ("Given 1,000 times radioactive dose at SGH"; March 15) could have stirred up feelings of helplessness, anger and sadness among victims of medical errors and their families. I can empathise with them as I lost my father under similar circumstances in 2008.

I reckon many families are seeking redress in order to get a proper closure, and to point out deficiencies in the public hospital system so that it can be made safer for others. Very often, they go through very difficult times while trying to seek redress because the avenues are fraught with challenges.

I also learnt that worldwide, many doctors and hospitals do not report errors because of concerns over malpractice lawsuits; this prevents collection of information needed to find and correct the conditions that led to the mistakes.

In a 2009 speech, the late senior minister of state, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, said: "Our hospitals are transparent about their achievements and successes. Quality control can be improved if there is also transparency about the errors within the system.

"Unfortunately when there are errors made, even when the hospital acknowledges them, they are usually kept confidential. I can appreciate that such information is embarrassing, but we should rise above such feelings and acknowledge that all systems have errors. The best way to improve the quality of care in our health-care system is to use every error as a learning case-example so that the error is not repeated.

"Perhaps the hospitals should review their practice and consider if it is in the best interest of the public to keep the information about the error confidential as a condition of any settlement reached. Transparency will reduce medical errors and lead to better medical outcomes."

I urge the Ministry of Health to take a cue from the United States, which introduced the National Medical Error Disclosure and Compensation Act. This Act provides physicians protection from liability and a safe environment for disclosure, as part of a programme to notify and compensate patients harmed by medical errors. It aims to restore integrity to dealings with patients, make it easier to learn from mistakes, avoid lawsuits and reduce litigation costs.

Lee Soh Hong (Miss)

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