Robert Wachter, MD, a patient safety expert at the University of California in San Francisco and chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine at UCSF Medical Center, thinks the site could be useful for healthcare officials. "One learns about medical mistakes through a variety of lenses, and this is another one," he says. "I suspect there'll be some interesting, useful information, a fair amount of ranting, and lots of people with painful stories they simply want to share with others. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out and whether it gets any traction."
ProPublica's team members monitor discussions and comment, posting relevant news or reference articles. As the site gets going, Allen says, "We want to do keynote question-and-answer sections with healthcare leaders and patient advocates, and whatever the topics are that audiences are most interested in, we'll try to provide useful resources."
I wondered how Allen's team will handle comments specific to named hospital facilities or physicians. "Let's say someone posts 'St. Augustine Hospital in Kansas City, MO killed my father when it gave him an overdose of morphine?'" I asked.
He replies that ProPublica will try to seek comment, "and to the extent we become aware of something we know is not true, we will take it down."
Allen acknowledges that the Facebook effort "is kind of an experiment, to be honest. We don't know how it's going to go or what direction it's going to take. We're trying not to control it too much, but let the members participate and engage one another and direct the direction that things take."
I know people at ProPublica personally, and the excellent reputation it has garnered in the last four years. If anyone can do this in a responsible way, surely this organization can, and highlight at a human level the harm that negligence and nonchalance can cause.