Should Hospitals Pay for Their Mistakes?

What happens when a hospital makes a mistake in medical care, and the harm to the patient results in the need for another medical treatment? It used to be that the patient was charged for this subsequent treatment, which would have been unnecessary but for the hospital’s error. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), cited in the New York Times discusses the economics of this system. Indeed, the system is set up so hospitals are financially rewarded for their mistakes.

But as the NY Times article points out, Medicare has changed its rules so that it will no longer compensate hospitals for the following mistakes: objects left in patients during surgery, incompatible blood transfusions, infections from vascular catheters and other hospital-acquired problems. This does bring up the potential problem of hospitals not having financial incentive to provide good care for these medical problems, but there are laws in place mandating that hospitals provide such care, so that may not be as much of a problem as some would fear.

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