Chicago Hospitals will be required to tell patients when they've been victims of medical errors under safety standards that take effect Sunday.
The rule is the first of its kind from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, a nonprofit group that monitors nearly 5,000 hospitals nationwide.
The commission acted partly in response to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report estimating that medical errors kill 44,000 to 98,000 hospital patients each year.
Under the guidelines, hospitals that don't discuss harmful mistakes with patients and fail to prove to commission investigators that they're doing so will risk losing their accreditation.
"We need to create a culture of safety in hospitals and other health care organizations, in which errors are openly discussed and studied so that solutions can be found and put in place," said Dr. Dennis O'Leary, the commission's president.
Some hospitals, including the nation's Veterans Affairs facilities, already tell patients when errors occur. Others may keep quiet to avoid potential lawsuits, said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, co-founder of Public Citizen Health Research Group, a consumer-oriented advocacy group.
He said research showed that hospitals that were honest with patients about mistakes faced fewer lawsuits.
"People don't like to get jerked around," Wolfe said. "Part of the understandable anger that accompanies a lawsuit is the idea that something bad happened to me and they didn't tell me."
Dr. Don Nielsen of the American Hospital Assn. said the new standards echo AHA policy for its members about 5,000 hospitals and health care systems nationwide.
AHA policy even goes further, advising hospitals to tell patients about mistakes that don't cause any harm, Nielsen said.