Monday, January 29, 2007

Probe post-surgical deaths

There is a proposal in South Carolina to mandate reporting of “patient deaths that happen within 24 hours of surgery to the coroner’s office”. The feeling is that an independent investigation (with the possibility of autopsy) outside the hospital would be better to track and differentiate deaths due to medical “misadventure”, those due to “error” vs. an unavoidable “accident” vs. a system problem in need of remedy. Corrective measures might be more likely to occur at the behest of an agency outside the hospital.

I like the idea.

Here in Illinois hospital deaths are reportable to the Coroner if they occur within 24 hours of admission (which include ER deaths) and if they are the result of a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure. The later categories allow for some interpretation by the hospital in reference to “as the result of”. I am not saying that hospitals “hide” things or that they are less than truthful and open in their reporting, but the perception could exist without a mandate as proposed in South Carolina.

Is it possible some cases shown not to warrant litigation could be kept out of the courts? It certainly is quite possible. Could some cases be pushed to early admission of culpability and settlement? Again, quite possibly. Could we possibly positively affect the healthcare system by pointing out errors and system problem areas, allowing for correction before others suffer a similar fate? I think this is the most important reason to consider this proposal.

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