After decades of inattention to the problem of medical injuries, patient safety is now occupying a prominent place on the health policy agenda and garnering renewed regulatory interest. Health care providers' behavior, with respect to patient safety and health care quality improvement, is now being shaped by top-down regulation through statutes and administrative agency oversight, as well as bottom-up drivers such as tort litigation and the forces of the consumer-driven health care market. Patient safety today exemplifies that eclectic mix of regulation that can occur when a new problem is exposed to the general public; it also demonstrates the diffi culties of coordinating regulatory signals from multiple sources and regulating incomplete information. This article reviews the evolution of the regulatory environment for patient safety, examines some of the tensions and challenges that currently define patient safety oversight, and suggests strategies for more rational and responsive regulation.

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