If you think that you can find all of the information that you need about Missouri’s medical facilities, think again. The general public has no way of finding out about some of the most serious problems with medical care because medical errors and hospital malpractice in Missouri often is unreported, or is reported but not accessible to the public.

Even the most harmful medical mistakes, known as “never events,” frequently go unreported. These include errors such as operating on the wrong part of a patient’s body, leaving surgical instruments inside of a patient’s body and giving out the wrong medication to patients.

Although in some states, like Minnesota, medical facilities are voluntarily adopting a policy of transparency – making information about their serious medical mistakes available to the public online – most states, including Missouri, don’t make this data public. Roughly two-thirds of Missouri hospitals don’t even submit reports of adverse events to the Missouri Center for Patient Safety, and no law requires them to do so.

Even if information is reported, it is almost always kept private. The 2005 federal law titled the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act allows those error reports submitted to patient safety organizations to be kept confidential, making it nearly impossible for the public to find out about egregious breaches in patient care. One reason for not informing the public about these problems is the fear that these problems will then not be reported at all by medical staff members concerned about losing their jobs.

It seems, however, that patient safety would be better served if more hospitals elected to adopt a policy of openness and transparency, so that mistakes could be properly addressed and patient care improved.

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