Panel recommends statewide system for doctors to report medical errors

By CARRIE SPENCER, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio should create a statewide system for doctors to report medical errors and a patient safety center to educate hospitals and physicians on how best to avoid mistakes, a state panel seeking ways to ensure affordable malpractice premiums reported Wednesday.

The Medical Malpractice Commission also recommended seeking programs to forgive student loans or other incentives to attract specialists and reward doctors who agree to stay in Ohio for a specified length of time.

Both ideas will take money, and state lawmakers are crafting the tightest budget in decades.

The Legislature created the panel of doctors, lawyers and insurers in 2003 to study malpractice issues and make recommendations, as part of a bill capping pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice cases. Physicians have been complaining that skyrocketing insurance rates were driving them to retire early or refuse patients at risk of complications.

Two years after the law passed, rates appear to be stabilizing, but the commission noted that doctors in some specialties are still paying double the premiums they paid in 2000. The panel recommended keeping the damage caps in place.

About 8 percent of medical errors result in malpractice lawsuits, the commission said.

"It is clear that the cost of defending lawsuits and paying claims are the driver of the rising premiums," said Ann Womer Benjamin, the panel's chair and head of the state Insurance Department.

While individual hospitals, medical trade groups and national accrediting organizations have safety programs and reporting requirements, the state needs a coordinated system of error reporting that extends to outpatient care and free clinics as well as hospitals, the panel's report said.

The data could be used to find trends and develop ways to prevent the most common errors, the report said.

The report calls for legislative approval -- and money -- for the reporting system and safety education center, but Womer Benjamin said there could be private sources for the money.

The Ohio State Medical Association welcomes the recommendation, lobbyist Tim Maglione said.

"We move away form a system of finger-pointing and blaming to a system that creates a culture of safety," he said.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)