Politics and Patient Safety

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When did everything get so political? It seems that wherever we turn everything is fair game for a political debate. But, how in the world did healthcare become so political? I think all of us, no matter if we are conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat believe in certain fundamental rights.

For the love of Pete, can we all agree:

  1. Americans pay more for healthcare than any other country in the world. Shouldn’t we also have the best healthcare in the world?
  2. If something has been deemed in the relevant scientific community as being “preventable,” shouldn’t it be prevented? Shouldn’t there be consequences for those who fail to prevent preventable injuries?
  3. With the great privilege of secrecy also comes great responsibility. If healthcare providers are allowed to operate in secrecy, shouldn’t there be accountability for doing bad things and hiding behind the privilege of secrecy?
  4. If healthcare providers break the law, shouldn’t they be held accountable?
  5. If you or a loved one are harmed, do you want an arbitrary limit placed on the amount of money you can recover from the responsible parties?

Now, let me back up and tell you a story dating back to 1996. There was a very important meeting among all the stakeholders at the time, including CMS, HHS, National Practitioner Data Bank, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, OIG, Public Citizen, and the Joint Commission. It is hard to imagine this, but complete consensus was reached on what important changes needed to be made to improve just one patient safety issue.


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These consensus recommendations included:

  • Make hospitals reporting bad doctors to the National Practitioner Data Bank a Medicare condition of participation.
  • Congress should authorize CMS to impose financial penalties on hospitals.
  • Congress should amend the Health Care Quality Improvement Act to impose civil money penalties on hospitals who break the law.
  • Congress should grant HRSA the authority to conduct compliance reviews of hospitals to ensure they are complying with the law regarding peer review, credentialing and reporting to the NPDB.
  • Congress should provide the OIG with authority to investigate state medical boards.
  • OIG and HHS should use corporate integrity agreements to monitor hospital peer review and reporting to NPDB.

Yet, how many of the consensus recommendations do you think have been implemented in the past 28 years? YEP. You guessed right. ZERO!

Think of all the political football which has played out on the nightly news over the past 28 years and how silly some of it has been. Yet, no one (Republican or Democrat) has championed the cause of patient safety.

Now, after 1996, there was one important piece of legislation which was passed. Yes, you guessed it. In 2003, Texas overwhelmingly passed “tort reform” legislation and the voters amended the Texas Constitution to enact special protections for healthcare providers.


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The effect of “tort reform” is indisputable. It has not made healthcare more affordable or safer.

Instead, it has made it even more difficult for patients to gain access to the courthouse and arbitrarily limits the amount of damages they can recover.

So, if politicians could rally around a sweeping piece of legislation that could take away patient’s rights, what is it going to take for politicians to get behind some sweeping reforms to make healthcare safer?

To underscore the gravity of the problem, consider this. Death from preventable medical errors have far exceeded deaths from other preventable causes, such as airplane crashes and nuclear power plant meltdowns. Annually, it has been estimated that there are upwards of 250,000 deaths from preventable medical errors, compared with 332 from airplane crashes and zero from nuclear power plant meltdowns. So, why do we allow the healthcare industry to kill us at such alarming rates?


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If we were losing a quarter of a million of our fellow citizens each year due to preventable airplane crashes or nuclear power plant meltdowns, would we perhaps have a little more outrage and activism?

So, what’s it going to take? I ask you. From this patient, I say. “Stop playing politics with my health and safety.”

Kay Van Wey

Kay Van Wey is a plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney. After more than 30 years, Kay’s goal is to make herself extinct by helping to eradicate preventable medical errors. Since 2017, Kay has been recognized as Best Lawyers in America for medical malpractice and voted a Texas Super Lawyer since 2003. Kay is board certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization and named a Trial Legend by the Dallas Bar Association. Kay serves as an adjunct professor at SMU Dedman School of Law, teaching Law and Medicine. Contact Kay online at vanweylaw.com or [email protected].

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