Rx Error Law Clears Congress—But Will It Work?

OCTOBER 01, 2005
Ken Rankin

In a move designed to cut down on costly medication errors and other types of medical mistakes, Congress approved new legislation designed to encourage pharmacists, physicians, and other health care providers to voluntarily disclose errors without risking litigation or disciplinary action. Under the new Patient Safety Quality Improvement Act, health care providers who furnish information to a government database about errors that cause little or no patient harm will be shielded from penalties.

The law drew praise from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), whose officials called the new system "an important step toward creating a fail-safe health care system." According to the ASHP officials, it is "essential that pharmacists and other health care providers can share information when an error happens, so that the events can be analyzed and prevented from occurring again."

Patient rights advocates at the People's Medical Society, however, raised concerns that the new law would have little effect on medication errors because the reporting procedure is strictly voluntary. Without mandatory error disclosure rules for pharmacists and other health professionals, there will be little reduction in the medical errors that claim thousands of lives annually, the group warned.

Mr. Rankin is a freelance medical writer.