Wolfville woman wonders how patient incident registry will lead to changes

HALIFAX – For the first time ever, the Nova Scotia government has released information about patient incidents but one Wolfville mother said she hopes it is more about making improvements than collecting data.

The serious reportable events database looks at surgical events, product or device events, patient protection events, care management events, environmental events and criminal events.

The incidents are reported every quarter by hospitals. So far, 27 serious events have been reported in the first six months of this year.

Two incidents are surgical related, another two are related to labour and delivery. Three are patient safety incidents. Five are care management adverse health events and three are patient falls.

“The focus is around describing the events efficiently to categorize it for purposes of determining that it’s a like event with another one but also for purposes of identifying what the issue is,” said Catherine Gaulton, the chair of the provincial Quality and Patient Safety Advisory Committee.

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Tanya Barnett has been fighting for a patient incident registry for years.

The Wolfville woman lost her daughter Jessica to an undiagnosed heart arrhythmia  seven years ago.

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She said the registry is a great concept but wonders how comprehensive the data is.

“I would want to know more and I’m not sure the public and myself are going to know more or if it is everything,” Barnett said.

Barnett said she would have liked to see more clarification in each of the six categories as well as more public input into the database.

She said, ultimately, it is what the government does with the data that is most important.

“We certainly can see trends. We can see what’s going on and what areas need improvement but how’s the improvement going to happen?”

“How’s it going to proceed from there? The system is only as good as the data that’s inputted. The research and the understanding of that data and acting upon that data.”

Gaulton said the registry is meant to show transparency in the system. But the events do not include information about the hospital, the district health authority, the date the incident occurred or the health care workers who may be involved.

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She said the database is about patient safety, not discipline.

“For purposes of determining whether there are opportunities for improving from a quality and patient safety perspective. Then a communication of those recommendations with a view to improvement across the province,” Gaulton said.

She said the registry is a snapshot of what has already occurred but stresses that the healthcare system is also being proactive about patient safety.

Lawyer Brian Hebert said there may be some marginal benefits of the registry for patients when it comes to medical malpractice litigation.

He said it could help patients better recognize their situations and make them more aware.

“If they go online and they see ‘wow this is a common problem’. I believe this will spur more people to consult with a lawyer and take action,” he said.

“People are more prepared to say ‘wait a second, a doctor isn’t god anymore’. If a mistake is made and it’s egregious, we’re going to pursue a remedy.”

Dr. Gus Grant, registrar for the N.S. College of Physicians and Surgeons, said the college embraces the registry.

“This is early days for the registry but we are confident it can be used as a tool to make the system better. This is a complex system–and errors occur in complex systems. Anything that helps shed a light on the system and encourages it to start responding is a good thing.”


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