Mistakes Could Become Costly for California Hospitals

Other states have already stopped reimbursing medical centers for preventable errors.

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About 100 Californians per month are injured as a result of hospital errors, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis. Some patients have surgical equipment left in their bodies, others have surgeries performed on the wrong body part, and still others receive improper dosages of medication. Safety experts often call such accidents "never events," because they are considered preventable, or "adverse events." The California Department of Public Health has already fined a total of 10 California hospitals the sum of $25,000 since July of last year, the paper reports. Now, a bill before the legislature could make medical mistakes costly for hospitals statewide.

In that sense, California would be joining a trend. Last August, Medicare announced plans to stop reimbursing hospitals for treatment-related costs incurred in the aftermath of certain errors. Some states, including Massachusetts, have already restricted reimbursement for care made necessary by a medical mistake, according to the Boston Globe. And private insurers, such as Cigna and WellPoint, have also started tightening their purse strings in such cases.

U.S. News's Avery Comarow, the editor of America's Best Hospitals, routinely explores the scope of the problem and its potential causes in his blog. Last November, he looked at a study that suggests there may be twice as many surgical mistakes as reported. In June, he pointed out that even the best children's hospitals have significant numbers of errors. New technology isn't always foolproof, he explains, when it comes to preventing errors. And long hours for doctors and nurses are a serious problem.

Looking for advice on how to make your next hospital visit go as smoothly as possible? Debby Rogers, vice president of quality and emergency services for the California Hospital Association, says that patients can help prevent errors. "Be active, and ask questions," she suggests. Patients can help their medical providers keep track of basic details, such as what medications they are taking, she says. This U.S. News guide offers more practical advice on how to navigate surgery as safely and smoothly as possible.