Sunday, August 13, 2006

Kaiser fined for mismanagement of its kidney-transplant program

Considering how neurotic the organ-transplant industry is to maintain a squeaky-clean image, it's remarkable that Kaiser Permanente's been hit with a massive fine from California's Department of Managed Health Care [press release] for mismanaging its kidney-transplant program. Even more significant, for my money, is the lesson here.

How many times has a health care provider tried to minimize the imposition of civil penalties by characterizing its lapses as "mere" record-keeping or bureaucratic errors, insisting all the while that no patient was put at risk and quality care wasn't compromised? My take on such evasions is that paperwork snafu's are typically the tip of the iceberg or (to mix my metaphors) the regulator's low-hanging fruit. If a place can't keep the administrative details straight, you can bet there's more to the situation than misplaced files and incomplete reports. Kaiser's situation is a good example:

Kaiser suspended its Northern California kidney transplant program in May amid mounting regulatory pressure and patient lawsuits alleging that botched paperwork and administrative errors had imperiled lives.

Problems arose when Kaiser ordered Northern California kidney patients to transfer from University of California hospitals to its new transplant center in 2004.

Kaiser failed to discuss with regulators the transfer of up to 1,500 patients to the new center, delaying some patients' procedures, the Los Angeles Times reported. Only 56 transplants were performed at the Kaiser's San Francisco center in 2005, while twice that number of people died waiting for a kidney, the Times reported.

At other California transplant centers, more than twice as many people received kidneys than died.

Lucinda Ehnes, director of the managed care department, said Kaiser's administrative oversight was inadequate and it provided too few personnel to accomplish the transfers.

The company also failed to provide timely access to specialists and did not properly respond to patient complaints, she said.

Mary Ann Thode, president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals in the Northern California region, said the HMO deeply regretted "any problems, difficulties or concerns we may have caused any of our patients as a result of their experience."

"Problems," "difficulties," and "concerns" are corporate euphemisms for the likely loss of lives of patients who placed their faith in Kaiser. But give Kaiser credit: it isn't engaging in the usual evasions about "mere errors in the paperwork," but is instead taking responsibility and vowing to do better in the future.
posted by tommayo, 11:49 PM

Health care law (including public health law, medical ethics, and life sciences), with digressions into constitutional law, poetry, and other things that matter