- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

DENVER (AP) Most physicians believe that reducing medical errors should be a national priority but are much less likely than the public to believe that quality of care is a problem, according to a new survey.
The study in today's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine also found that nearly all physicians believe that fear of medical malpractice suits is a barrier to the reporting of errors and that greater legal safeguards are needed for reporting systems to be effective.
Congress is considering a bill sponsored by Rep. Nancy L. Johnson, Connecticut Republican, that would create a voluntary, confidential system for reporting medical errors, but so far no action has been taken.
Experts said the study underlines the difficulties in creating such a system.
"There is widespread fear that reporting of errors would lead to more medical malpractice. I think physicians are always practicing with some unconscious fear of being sued because it's very prevalent," said Dr. Michael Fetters, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan whose area of expertise is errors in primary care.
"There would have to be protections against legal repercussions for reporting" for a system to be put in place, he said.
The study was conducted through a mail survey of 1,000 Colorado physicians and 1,000 other physicians across the United States, as well as a telephone survey of 500 Colorado households.
Respondents were asked to assess their agreement with several statements from a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine that found preventable medical errors to be the eighth-leading cause of death in the United States, contributing to as many as 98,000 deaths annually.
The study found that 67.6 percent of people surveyed in households believed that quality of care is a significant problem, while 29.1 percent of Colorado physicians and 34.9 percent of physicians nationwide surveyed agreed.
At the same time, 59.8 percent of the public surveyed said a national agency should be created to address medical errors, while 24.1 percent of Colorado physicians and 32.2 percent of physicians nationwide surveyed would support that plan.

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