A letter from my mother to members of the Kansas House Committee on Judiciary

As I reported in this post, my mother and I testified before the Kansas House Committee on Judiciary about our bill (HB 2376) to require disclosure of harmful medical errors and unanticipated outcomes. Also heard that day was an apology bill that would alter rules of evidence in malpractice cases. The committee chair (Lance Kinzer) decided to have the committee work on the apology bill last Monday, but not our bill. My mother traveled back to Topeka to be present for that meeting.

I asked my mother to listen for two things: (1) what problem the committee thought they were addressing with the apology bill, and (2) how often the discussion mentioned physicians and patients. My position is that this bill could address only two types of problems: Either there is a problem of inappropriate evidence being used in malpractice cases (and then I would expect to see examples of this inappropriate evidence brought up during their discussion), or it is a problem that many other states have these types of laws but Kansas does not—causing Kansas to look deficient in legislative output (and the bill will correct this deficiency by adding one more state statue). This bill does nothing to ensure that patients are informed about medical errors. That would require a disclosure bill, such as HB 2376. And of course and it does nothing to help prevent those errors.

From what my mother tells me, this apology bill was discussed for less than ten minutes. There was some discussion of removing the term “fault”. And someone who had a dictionary wanted the term “sympathy” replaced with “empathy”. Then the bill was tabled. My mother tallied only three times physicians were mentioned, and once for patients. I am not sure how to interpret this, but I hope that the committee realized that this bill doesn’t address a real problem.

Afterword my mother asked the chairman about our bill, and he said that she needed to increase interest among committee members. So we are doing what we can. My mother mailed the letter below to each committee member.

My mother’s letter

You may recall that my daughter, Melissa Clarkson, and I testified before the House Judiciary Committee on February 10 concerning the apology bill, HB 2523, as well as the medical error disclosure bill we authored, HB 2376. I was present during the session on February 24 when you worked HB 2523. I had the opportunity to briefly visit with Rep. Kinzer following the session and inquired if he planned to work 2376. If I understood him correctly, the answer was no as he didn’t feel the committee would be interested since 2523 was tabled. He suggested I visit with the committee members and if several of you showed interest he would consider working 2376. Because of the short time left in this legislative session, I feel this would be difficult to do. My distance from Topeka makes meeting with each of you unlikely and the probable difficulty of reaching each of you by phone did not seem to make that suggestion immediately practical. Therefore I am sending this letter to all the committee members. We are not dropping our efforts for the passage of a disclosure bill for unanticipated outcomes and medical errors. But unless you let Rep. Kinzer know you want to work 2376 this session, we will most likely have a bill introduced in the 2015 legislative session that would include the amendments we suggested on February 10 and remove Section 4, the apology section. The committee would have the opportunity to make those changes now.

We like to think we live in a state and country where people are held accountable for harm they do to others. For example, if I should happen to cause an automobile accident that damages your vehicle or injures you or your passenger(s), you would hold me accountable for paying for the damages to the vehicle as well as medical bills. Those bills would be paid through my insurance company. It would not have been my intent to do you harm, but I would still be held accountable. I don’t know of any area in our society, outside of the medical profession, where the law does not hold people and organizations accountable for their actions that do harm. This must change, and this change begins with healthcare providers being honest with patients, as well as themselves. The secrecy must end.

Our bill has been criticized as being complex, but in essence it is very simple. It would require healthcare providers to tell patients the truth when they have been harmed. How can anyone justify disagreeing with this position? What would disagreeing with this position say about the state of Kansas and the views of its lawmakers?

I can respect a physician who owns up to harm he or she has caused. I cannot respect someone who hides harm to a patient for fear of a lawsuit or their reputation. How can the medical profession improve if it is not honest with itself? Advances in medicine bring about more risks for errors. If the problems are not acknowledged now, then when? How many more patients will have to suffer from repeated mistakes? What if the next patient harmed by that mistake is a member of your family?

Accountability within the medical profession is an issue that is not going to go away. I have been surprised to learn how much effort is going into this across the nation. Melissa and I have had the privilege of being invited to take part in the Denver based Physician Safety Education (PSE) group’s session for resident level physicians at the Telluride Patient Safety Camp in Colorado this June. We will be telling our story there—what happened to my husband in our local hospital, how the hospital refused to talk to my family about my husband’s care, and our efforts to make sure that the right of patients to know what has happened in their healthcare becomes a part of Kansas law. This is one connection that came about through her website https://disclosemedicalerrors.wordpress.com.

Even if nothing is done with 2376 this legislative session, I would appreciate knowing your thoughts on our bill. I hope you have taken time to study our testimony. If not, please do so. I know it’s a lot of information but it’s important you understand what is really going on. I am providing my contact information below and hope to hear from each of you whether you agree with us or not. Your response does not need to be immediate, but please don’t shove this letter aside and forget about it. This is an issue that affects everyone, yourself and your family included.

Respectfully yours,

Nancy Clarkson

Arkansas City, Ks. 67005

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