SUSAN DENTZER: Last fall, a report from the National Institute of Medicine noted that roughly 100,000 Americans may die, and a million may be injured each year, as a result of preventable medical mistakes. Today President Clinton seized on that report's recommendations, proposing major changes in health care in hopes of slashing the error rate.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Just think about it. We can cut preventable medical errors in half in five years, reduce concerns about lawsuits and about medical mistakes, avoid needless injuries and deaths, save lives, and make the world's best health care system much better for all Americans.
SUSAN DENTZER: To accomplish it, the president proposed several specific steps. These included creating a new center for quality improvement in patient safety at the Federal Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: My budget includes $20 million to support the center, which will invest in research, develop national goals, issue an annual report on the state of patient safety, and translate findings into better practices and policies. Second, we will ensure that each and every one of the 6,000 hospitals participating in Medicare has patient safety programs in place to prevent medical errors, including medication mistakes. These new systems save lives and, over time, of course, also save money.
SUSAN DENTZER: Among other things, the president said those new systems should allow doctors to enter their prescription drug orders into computers instead of writing them down on paper. That could eliminate countless fatal mistakes that occur each year simply because nurses and other aides misread doctors' poor handwriting.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Hospitals that have already taken these steps have eliminated -- listen to this -- two out of three medication errors. This is very significant. We tend to think all of our problems are the result of some complex, high-tech glitch. We just want to make sure, if people can read the prescriptions -- two out of three of these errors can be eliminated.
SUSAN DENTZER: The president's most controversial proposal would require all hospitals to report to state agencies when patients were killed or seriously injured because of a medical mistake. But he noted that tough questions remain about how to gather and disseminate information about errors without creating additional legal liability for the health care providers that divulge it.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We also want to replace what some call a culture of silence with a culture of safety, an environment that encourages others to talk about errors, what caused them, and how to stop them in the first place. So we'll support legislation that protects provider and patient confidentiality, but that does not undermine individual rights to remedies when they have in fact been harmed.
SUSAN DENTZER: Today's announcement by the president now seems likely to spur action in Congress, where lawmakers from both parties are trying to craft bipartisan error reduction plans that they hope to enact this year.