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Illinois Case May Have Major Impact on Medical Error Reporting

The Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act is a federal law that took effect in 2005. Under this law, the mistakes of hospitals, physicians and pharmacists are reported to patient safety organizations (PSOs) that are charged with the review of these incidents. Recommendations can then be made for improvements to health care services to prevent future errors and medical malpractice. In order to encourage the free flow of information, PSOs do not disclose reported incidents to the public.

A case scheduled to be heard by the Illinois Supreme Court, however, could help unveil that secrecy. The case, which will begin this January, deals with the confidentiality of three Walgreens pharmacists who were accused of medication negligence.

In 2010, the Illinois Department of Professional and Financial Regulation was investigating the mistakes made by the drug store's pharmacists and issued subpoenas to obtain information about the incidents from Walgreens. When the store refused to provide the information, stating that it should remain confidential under the Patient Safety Act, the state sued Walgreens and lost - precipitating the state Supreme Court case.

Impact on Patient Safety

According to those who support the drug store's position in this case, if the Supreme Court rules against Walgreens, patient safety may actually be at risk. Mistakes may not get reported to PSOs if health care professionals know that the information has the potential to be made public.

"If that becomes public and used for discipline, people are going to be very reluctant to participate in that system," Dr. Wayne Polek of the Illinois State Medical Society told American Medical News.

The state of Illinois, however, argues that the Act is being applied too broadly, and questions whether all Walgreen's medication error information is protected by the federal law.

Since this is the first case to consider the protections of the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act, whatever decision the court reaches in the Illinois case will impact future rulings across the county.

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