The Nova Scotia government is moving closer to a province-wide system of reporting medical mistakes.

Currently, each health authority collects its own information in its own way, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the magnitude of the problem.

Beginning Dec. 22, all nine of the province's health authorities will be required to report medical mistakes to the Department of Health and Wellness within 12 hours.

Previously, each health authority had its own definitions of what are called adverse events.

Health Minister Leo Glavine said this new process will allow his department to identify trends and problem areas.

“I think it helps to bring greater safety and stronger health delivery as we collect that kind of information,” he said.

Personal injury lawyer Ray Wagner often represents victims of medical errors. He said this new system is needed.

“In our experience, in dealing with medical cases, is that frequently we see the same error made often in the same hospital,” he said.

Wagner said the system must also allow patients to report suspected medical errors and he said it must be transparent.

Glavine said this is just the first step in moving toward a standard system of reporting and reviewing medical errors.

He hasn't decided yet whether the information will be made public, but he said there's little reason not allow the public to see the information.

Mastectomy mix-up

Nova Scotia's previous Health Minister Dave Wilson promised a new registry of medical errors earlier this year, hoping it would provide a way for health care professionals to learn from their colleagues' mistakes.

Capital Health confessed in August it made mistakes in two separate instances, both involving cancer patients.

A woman in her 60s had a breast removed when the process was unnecessary and the other patient, who needed surgery, was not scheduled for the procedure until after the mistake was caught.

In a second separate case, tissue samples were switched before the pathology analysis. One patient had an unnecessary diagnostic biopsy and the other patient never got the followup they needed.

Capital Health said there were over 19,000 reports of adverse events in the last fiscal year, but it says only three per cent of cases resulted in harm to a patient. That works out to almost 600 people.