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Punishing medical errors won’t improve hospital safety or quality

Joseph Ibrahim and John McNeil write in The Conversation (16.3.17) that there is little if any evidence that the frequency of so-called 'sentinel' events reflects the overall quality of care provided by a hospital.

'Australian public hospitals will soon be penalised for serious errors, with the aim of improving the quality and safety of health services. The punitive measure was a core proposal in the pricing framework for Australian public hospital services presented to the Health Council of COAG (Council of Australian Governments) in March 2017.

'Withdrawing funding for serious errors, known a “sentinel events”, was advised by the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA) and will come into force in July 2017. Australia has eight nationally agreed sentinel events.

'These include: “procedures involving the wrong patient or body part resulting in death or major permanent loss of function” and an “infant [being] discharged to the wrong family”. Such events are clear and unambiguous errors, which can be prevented.

'But cases of maternal death associated with pregnancy and childbirth, also included in the list, are typically unrelated to deficiency of care. Penalising unfortunate events such as these is unlikely to improve the overall safety of the hospital.'


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