$9.25M in Fines for Medical Errors Goes Largely Unspent in CA

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , September 6, 2012

The project will also examine what surgeons should do in cases where it's unclear whether a retained object's removal would be a greater risk to the patient than leaving it in.

"This is a topic of considerable discussion and disharmony in the larger medical community," he says. "Leaving a pair of scissors or forces or gauze is different than having a drill bit break off; it may put the patient at greater risk to take it out than leave it in."

But finding solutions to keep surgical teams from forgetting these items in the first place is key, Kizer says. "We'll try to find everything we can and distill evidence about what strategies clearly work, what appears promising, and we'll cast the net widely," he says.

I'm delighted that reputable quality researchers will seek an evidence-based solution to the nightmare of retained surgical paraphernalia, and I don't think that $825,000 is too much.

But what about the rest of the $9.25 million? True, about $2 million has not yet been paid or is on appeal. But in another six months, the state should have another $2 million or so paid up, and another $2 million assessed. There's a lot of money earmarked for quality improvement and it should be spent.

Apparently, California lawmakers are content to let it sit in some state bank account, awaiting some future healthcare quality crisis to demand that it be used as the law intended.

Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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