Public Health Hearing Focuses on Quality and Patient Safety

Health Care For All’s Consumer Health Quality Council (CHQC) testified on Tuesday at a Committee on Public Health hearing. Four members testified in person and three others submitted written testimony. They all urged legislators to pass bills that will strengthen the conversation between consumers and their health care providers and improve the quality of care we receive.

Nicola Truppin, the Consumer Council President, gave an overview of the bills the Council is supporting. She passed the baton to Lucilia Prates, of Arlington, who testified in support of HB 1519, SB 1150/HB 613, and HB 597. Lucilia’s father unfortunately became one of the 99,000 patients per year who die because of a healthcare-associated infection. Lucilia’s father’s kidney became infected after a routine procedure to remove kidney stones. After six months of multiple surgical procedures, her father died. Lucilia is most frustrated because her father’s death was avoidable. She believes a surgical checklist could have prevented the infection. As Rep. Provost (D-Somerville), the House lead sponsor of the checklist bill, said at the commencement of the hearing, we use checklists before we go to the grocery store- so why not in the operating room when a patient’s life is at stake? In addition, Lucilia encouraged the passage of legislation that will allow doctors to apologize to patients without having this used against them in court, as Lucilia and her family have never received an apology or explanation from her father’s doctors.

Lisa Nash then testified in support of SB 1078 / HB 1495. Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and consulted with a prominent Boston hospital to learn about her options. Though she thought she had asked all the “right” questions in the initial consultations regarding her treatment, six months after Lisa received a lumpectomy she was shocked to learn the pain and itching she had been experiencing in her breast was a result of her surgeon leaving 5 titanium clips in her body, apparently the hospital’s standard procedure. Lisa’s surgeon refused to remove the clips from her breast or admit the pain Lisa experienced was a result of the titanium clips. She had them removed at another hospital, where she experienced complications that now leave her with a permanently disfigured breast. Lisa testified that had this bill been effect prior to her surgery, she would have been informed of the clips and had the opportunity to discuss her many allergies and seek a treatment option that would not leave foreign objects in her body. Read an interview with Lisa on the HCFA website.

Ken Farbstein spoke next in support of HB 1495 / SB 1078. Ken has been personally successful in participating in his own treatments, but wants this bill to promote all patients having informed conversations with their doctors about their treatment options. For example, when advised to undergo Lasik eye surgery, Ken weighed his options and opted out because he discovered he would probably still need to wear glasses. When an ENT surgeon suggested Ken receive sinus surgery, he looked into it carefully and again said no. Instead, Ken chose a less invasive treatment option that was also a fraction of the cost. By involving patients in the decision-making process, this bill can both improve the quality of our care, and save taxpayers money.

Ironically, when Ken’s dog recently needed treatment from his Veterinarian, Ken and his family were fully informed, receiving a 1 page fact sheet of treatment options, possible outcomes, and a detailed list of costs associated with treatments. As Ken said, If only our health care could make so much sense.

Preventable medical errors are real and impact patients every day. Dalia Al-Othman was unable to deliver her testimony in person due to the on-going consequences of a preventable hospital-acquired infection. HCFA would like to thank Dalia and the other consumers who provided their testimony to the Committee.

The hearing featured many other consumers and representatives from government and businesses who testified for bills to improve health care quality. In light of the recent natural disaster in western MA, many health care professionals and representatives testified in support of SB 1155, which gives liability protection to volunteers who provide disaster relief care. As it stands now, many medical professionals are hesitant to volunteer their services because they are not protected against liabilities that may occur.

In addition, some representatives testified to oppose legislation that would allow doctors’ apologies and explanations of mistakes to be inadmissible in court. Jeffrey Catalano of the Massachusetts Bar Association testified that while the MBA supports a law to allow apologies, they are concerned about the broad nature of the apology provision in HB 1519, which also allows statements of mistake and error to be inadmissible in court. He expressed his concern that if doctors would be allowed to admit to their specific mistake without this used against them in court, patients would not be able to receive their deserved compensation for serious medical errors.

Tuesday’s hearing included important testimony from consumers and representatives, and we hope their testimony will help to pass legislation that will improve the quality of our care and empower patients to become integral participants in their own care.

-Amelia Russo & Deb Wachenheim

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