Copyright 2000 Federal News Service, Inc.
Federal News Service
January 26, 2000, Wednesday
SECTION: PREPARED TESTIMONY
LENGTH: 710 words
PREPARED TESTIMONY OF EDWARD M. KENNEDY
SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR AND PENSIONS COMMITTEE
SUBJECT - REDUCING MEDICAL ERROR: A LOOK AT THE IOM REPORT
I commend the Chairman for holding this
hearing and I join in welcoming the representatives of the Institute of Medicine
committee, the health care community, and Gail Devers. I want to add a
particular welcome to one of the members of the I.O.M committee -- Dr. Lucien
Leape. He's an Adjunct Professor for Health Policy at the Harvard School of
Public Health, and a member of the Health Sciences Division at RAND. He's been a
pioneer on patient safety for many years and has conducted many of the basic
studies on medical errors. I commend Dr. Leape and the I.O.M committee for their
outstanding contribution in calling attention to the compelling need for
national action to reduce medical mistakes and improve patient safety.
Medical errors are the eighth leading cause of death in the United
States. Each day, more than 250 people die because of mistakes -- the equivalent
of a major airplane crash each day and every day. The annual financial cost is
enormous with estimates running as high as $29 billion dollars
a year just for preventable medical mistakes. Reducing these errors can save
lives and avoid countless family tragedies. The field of anesthesia undertook
such an effort almost twenty years ago. The number of deaths from errors in
administering anesthesia dropped from 60 deaths for every 300,000 patients in
the early 1980s to just one death for 300,000 people today, a reduction of 98
percent. Our goal should be equal or even greater success in reducing other
types of medical mistakes.
According to the Institute of Medicine
report, the vast majority of these mistakes are caused by flaws in the health
system that encourage such errors, not by outright negligence of individual
doctors or nurses. Our hospitals, doctors, nurses, and other health care
providers want to do the right thing. Improving the design of the health system
will greatly reduce medical mistakes.
To do so, the Institute of
Medicine report recommends the creation of a national Center for Patient Safety,
as a clearinghouse for safety information, and to guide research on the problem,
set safety goals, and assess progress in achieving them.
The report also
calls for the establishment of both mandatory and voluntary reporting systems to
identify medical mistakes. Although many health care facilities have internal
reporting systems, more than 95% of medical errors go unreported. These are lost
opportunities to learn from the mistakes and make the changes needed to prevent
them in the future.
The President has asked the leaders of relevant
agencies and departments in the Administration to study the I.O.M.
recommendations and report back on February 7 with their own recommendations on
the need for legislation and the feasability of instituting measures to decrease
medical errors and increase patient safety. It may well be that we can achieve
significant success in many areas without legislation, and I look forward to
this important report.
Finally, there are some who may try to use this
very real and very pressing issue to confuse and further delay the action on the
Patients' Bill of Rights. Clearly, preventing mistakes by
doctors and hospitals is important, but it is no substitute for enacting strong
protections for patients against abuses by HMOs and other insurance companies.
The Patients' Bill of Rights passed the House with
overwhelming bipartisan support. It is a needed response that would end the
well- documented and deliberate actions of HMOs and other insurance companies
that deny patients needed care. The debate on medical mistakes relates to
unintentional actions that lead to breakdowns in the health care that patients
receive, and it requires a very different solution.
We can complete
action on the Patients' Bill of Rights and
send a strong bill to the President very quickly. But we are just beginning to
explore the medical errors issue. I am optimistic about our ability to find a
solution with broad bipartisan support, but it makes no sense to delay action on
the Patients' Bill of Rights now.
Today's hearing is an
important step on medical mistakes, and I look forward to working with the
members of our Committee to deal with this serious problem as quickly and
effectively as possible.