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Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2009 Apr;22(2):199-206. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e328323f7aa.

Healthcare safety committee in Japan: mandatory accountability reporting system and punishment.

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Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.



The publication of To Err is Human by the Institute of Medicine highlighted the increased international concern about patient safety. Each country has developed its own medical adverse event reporting system. In 2007, the Japanese government attempted to establish a new accountability system in medicine, after an obstetrician was arrested for manslaughter. This paper reviews how this accountability system affected Japanese physicians' behavior, and describes different types of medical adverse event reporting systems.


In general, reporting of adverse event systems can be either mandatory or voluntary, with the purpose being either for learning or for accountability. The goal of a newly proposed mandatory accountability system from the Japanese government was to investigate the cause of death in medical cases in order to clarify liability. Reports generated by this system could potentially be cited in civil law suits, administrative sanctions, and criminal prosecutions. After announcement of this new system, Japanese physicians began to act defensively, fearing criminal prosecution. Refusing to see high-risk patients and 'bouncing' (sometimes referred to as 'turfing' or 'dumping') to other hospitals became national phenomena. In addition, medical school graduates began avoiding highly legally vulnerable specialties. Even though this new system is not yet legalized in Japan, at least 153 obstetrics hospitals and 3320 clinics have closed.


The new system of investigating medical adverse events in Japan allows for incident reports to be utilized in court. This has led to widespread fear of prosecution and defensive medicine. The lessons from Japan should be considered when other countries implement nationwide accountability systems.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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