Thursday, June 26, 2008

Telling Truth Proves Healthy

Telling the public the truth about medical mishaps has not provoked mass hysteria as feared - instead, it is proving healthier for patients and the health system, officials say.

Speaking this week at the launch of the New Zealand Incident Management System for "sentinel" (serious) events, Director-General of Health Stephen McKernan said the public had a right to know that when something went wrong, it was acknowledged and something was done about it.

In the small number of cases in which things went wrong, the authorities had to be "honest with patients and their families, find out what happened, why ... and how to stop it happening again"."One preventable death is one too many."

Quality Improvement Committee chairman Pat Snedden said the committee had asked each of the 21 district health boards for their policies on incident management and disclosure and received 46 policies.

Policy around the new system is still being developed, but a central Web-based repository for incident reports feeding into continuing training for health workers is planned.

Mr Snedden, who also chairs Auckland DHB, said when Capital and Coast was forced by the ombudsman to release details of serious events to The Dominion Post, every other board knew it could have been them.

"We quickly realised there was no value in pointing the finger at each other, but there was value in self-examination and in sharing what we found."

However, in the process of putting together the report - which detailed 182 serious events in 2006-07, including 40 deaths - the committee found that while boards had their own systems for dealing with such events, "almost no one was sharing what they had learned with anyone else".

Though they had been reluctant to air their "dirty laundry" in public, boards learned the public wanted to know the truth. "Far from encouraging hysteria, truth-telling gives them some perspective on the process."

Further, dealing with the media in a professional and open way had led to more objective reporting.

Both the health and disability commissioner and the ombudsman had highlighted the importance of disclosure and engaging the public, he said.


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