Wait another year for patient safety data, GAO says

Patient Safety Act of 2005 still in early stages of implementation

Nearly five years after Congress passed a law mandating that data be collected about medical errors that affect patient safety, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is another year away from receiving any data, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office. 

Under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005, AHRQ was told to set up patient safety organizations to collect data about medical errors from healthcare providers. The information would then flow to a national network of patient safety databases for analysis.

AHRQ has set up 65 patient safety organizations to collect data from hospitals, but few are actually collecting such data, GAO said in the report released Jan. 29. Furthermore, the AHRQ is still in the process of establishing the national network, and data is not expected to flow to the national network until February 2011 at the earliest, according to GAO. Finally, AHRQ has not set up a plan for collecting data from other types of providers, such as doctors' offices or health plans, the report added.

AHRQ officials said several activities were necessary to create a foundation for the program before the data could flow. In October 2005, the agency began developing common data formats, which were made final in January 2009. The agency also approved regulations for carrying out the law in January 2009.

In 2007, AHRQ contracted with Westat to create the national network of databases and with the Iowa Foundation for Medical Care to create a Privacy Protection Center to assist the safety organizations in developing de-identified data and protecting confidentiality.

Overall, the implementation of the 2005 law is in the beginning stages and its effectiveness cannot be assessed at this time, GAO concluded. In addition, because the data collection is voluntary, it is not clear that implementing the law will result in safety improvements wanted by Congress.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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