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Despite laws in New Jersey and Pennsylvania requiring
hospitals to report major medical errors, unanticipated complications, and near
misses to stage agencies for the purpose of reducing medical mistakes, experts
say that hospitals in both states are neglecting to report these kinds of

Last year, major medical errors in Pennsylvania included accidentally
leaving surgical equipment inside two separate patients at Fox Chase Cancer Center. At Abington Memorial Hospital, a
woman recovering from hip surgery developed open bed sores after being left
lying on a bedpan for several hours. In
a violation of state law, none of these incidents was reported by the hospitals

These individual reporting failures are indicative of a larger
trend across Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Last year, 5 out of the 80 hospitals in New Jersey neglected to report a
single preventable medical error to state agencies. Similarly, a handful of Pennsylvania
hospitals reported having no serious events and no near misses that could have
hurt patients.

To put this in perspective, James Conway, a quality expert
at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Cambridge, Mass., says that on
average, 100 patient medical charts document about 40 instances of patient

When we compare these statistics to the ones coming in from
hospitals, it becomes apparent that underreporting is both pervasive and

“Anybody that is supposed to report close calls and has
zero reports is clueless,” said James Bagian, head of the Department of
Veterans Affairs’ National Center for Patient Safety. “Management is asleep at the switch and
just waiting until they kill someone.”

On the consumer level, patients have no way of knowing how well
local hospitals are performing. State
agencies do not release reports from individual hospitals regarding their rate
of medical errors. Oftentimes, it is not
until the health department cites a hospital for breaking state laws that the
public even hears of the hospital’s failing.

Since 2003, though the health department has found four
Pennsylvania hospitals to be in violation for failing to report serious medical
errors, none of these hospitals has been fined.

In the current climate of sloppy enforcement, medical
malpractice lawsuits may be one of the only ways to make certain that hospitals
and doctors are held accountable for serious patient harm.

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