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Bills would exempt medical error reports from FOI Act

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Jun 11, 2002    

Bills would exempt medical error reports from FOI Act

  • House and Senate bills would encourage health care providers to make voluntary rather than mandatory reports on medical errors and, in exchange, would guarantee them secrecy.

Bills to encourage the voluntary reporting of medical errors by promising health care providers that the information would be exempt under the federal Freedom of Information Act were introduced in the Senate on June 5 and the House on June 6.

Patient safety data to be kept secret under these bills concerns only non-identifiable patients and would be used by government agencies to study problems of medical errors.

The data not only would be withheld from FOI requesters but would also not be subject to subpoena or discovery or admitted as evidence in civil, criminal or administrative proceedings or be used adversely to deny accreditation, credentialing or licensing. However, some specific disclosures of information relevant to regulated products or activities would be made available to regulatory agencies.

In its findings, the House bill, introduced by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), notes that, in a 1999 report, “To Err is Human,” the Institute of Medicine reported that medical errors comprise the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, killing as many as 98,000 people each year.

Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) introduced the Senate measure.

To combat the deadly medical errors, the Institute report and the bill’s findings say that research on patient safety is better conducted in a “learning environment” than in a “punitive environment” and that “voluntary gathering” of information rather than “mandatory gathering” of information is more supportive of that “learning environment.”

The bills mirror efforts by both houses to allow government agencies to gather voluntarily submitted information from businesses that would be helpful in protecting the critical infrastructure in exchange for guaranteeing protections against disclosure of that information under the FOI Act.

An exemption to the FOI Act (Exemption 3) allows agencies to withhold information from requesters if another statute requires that the information be withheld. Both the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act in the Senate and the Patient Safety Improvement Act in the House specifically state that the information collected by the government would not be subject to the FOI Act.

(H.R. 4889; S 2590) RD

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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