Speaking with two mouths

Speaking with two mouths

Cyril Tuohy

The medical industry has a hard time keeping its story straight. On the one hand, hospitals are implementing simulation centers to help encourage doctors and nurses to communicate more openly as a way of reducing medical errors and help save lives.

No less an authority than Shulamith Klein, the senior director of risk and insurance services for Atlanta-based Emory Healthcare, says that better communication, more than any other factor, is key to reducing errors in hospitals and other medical facilities. Fewer errors mean fewer claims, which is good news.

If only it were that easy. Conspiring against Klein and her colleagues are restrictive privacy laws like HIPAA, passed by lawmakers to protect the medical records and histories of the public. These laws encourage the industry and its practitioners to keep information and data secret, and discourage the foot soldiers of the medical profession from communicating openly.

What to do? Is there even room for compromise? Yes, but it means changing deeply entrenched cultures.

That compromise also entails balancing the risks that are inherent in any technological advance. Storing patient data electronically on mobile devices gives patients and doctors just-in-time information. Unfortunately, the innovation swings the door of potential privacy invasion ever wider.

As the industry evolves, as many as 20 state governments have developed medical error reporting systems, many of which are managed by nonprofit organizations. Even the private sector deserves credit. Bermuda-based Endurance Specialty Holdings Ltd. and Allied World Assurance Co. have initiated patient safety report cards to reward hospitals and clinics for reaching specific initiatives.

It’s an encouraging sign, because even the best, most efficient medical technologies and medicine’s most visionary leaders are no match for an industry that doesn’t want to change.

Cyril Tuohy

Managing Editor

ctuohy@lrp.com

COPYRIGHT 2007 Axon Group

COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale Group