L.A. County supervisors call for increased patient safety measures

Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday ordered improvements intended to shore up patient safety at the county’s hospitals and clinics after reviewing a study commissioned to look at malpractice payouts.

The risk management study, conducted by the Abaris Group, a Walnut Creek-based independent consulting firm, found that payouts for malpractice cases settled between 2005 and 2007 increased from more than $8 million to more than $12 million.

At the same time, a review of records found that the number of incidents that either resulted in or were expected to result in malpractice lawsuits dropped from 354 in 2002 to 107 last year.

Mike Williams, the firm’s president, told supervisors that county health officials have made “tremendous progress,” but still need to improve how they monitor patient safety, share safety information between facilities, develop new technology to track it and streamline an overly bureaucratic system of monitoring committees. The study cost $176,850, according to staff at the county chief executive’s office.

Abaris staff reviewed past malpractice lawsuits filed against the county, interviewed staff and visited the county’s four public hospitals and five clinics, according to the report. Williams, however, told supervisors his firm had limited access to records the department considered part of confidential peer review, the process through which doctors evaluate each others’ performance.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said she was pushing for board access to peer review records to ensure they can hold doctors accountable for risk management.

“As a governing board, we feel we need access to all records of patient safety,” Molina said. “Our duty is to ensure the best quality of care at our facilities.”

Supervisors unanimously ordered the county’s chief executive and health services officials to return in two months with a plan to satisfy consultants’ recommendations, including creation of a database to track and report patient safety measures and a new website where the data would be publicly available.

John Schunhoff, interim director of health services, said he agreed with supervisors’ recommendations and his staff was already working to satisfy them. However, he said that access to confidential peer review material is still under discussion.