will government changes threaten the safety of pennsylvania patients

These days it seems as though everything in the government budget has been subject to the chopping block at least once. In theory, programs that operate effectively are safe from budget cuts, while programs that could be more efficient may be subject to changes. But who determines whether programs are effective, and what happens when changes that make sense on paper don’t actually make sense in real life?

That is the debate engaging policymakers and patient safety advocates throughout Pennsylvania right now.

Under a proposed new plan, two agencies in Pennsylvania’s Department of Health may be merged. Gov. Tom Corbett argues that the move will streamline the collection and analysis of health information. The Patient Safety Authority — the department responsible for collecting reports of medical errors and near misses — fears the merge would limit the effectiveness of the department.

The acting chairman of the Patient Safety Authority thinks the merge would undermine the relationships they’ve built that enable them to get accurate information. He says, “We’re very dependent on the trusting relationships we’ve built up over the years. If we got merged into a regulatory agency, we’ll lose that.”

Hospitals are required to report all medical errors that harm patients. But what about situations in which patients’ safety were threatened, but patients weren’t harmed. Right now, the health care professionals report those “near-misses” voluntarily. The data is collected by the Patient Safety Agency and is then analyzed to determine if there are systematic changes that could make hospitals safer.

Will patient safety be threatened if the Patient Safety Authority and the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council merge? Read more in our next post to learn more about the decision and the efforts that could help protect patients.

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Patient safety, cost agencies to move under Health Department,” Steve Twedt, March 14, 2012

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