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Serious Deficiencies in Hospital Infection Reporting Procedures

The risk of infection after a surgery is well known. A high rate of infection is often a sign that a facility is not maintaining appropriate medical safety practices. Nationwide, infections that resulted from a surgical procedure cause more than 8,000 deaths per year. The healthcare system incurs roughly $10 billion in expenses stemming from these infections. Despite the widespread, pervasive nature of the problem, hospitals have almost total discretion in how they report such infections. Many hospitals can simply choose to obscure the data, leaving patients with no ability to determine the risks involved with choosing to have a surgery at a given facility. A new study has reviewed the current state of affairs regarding national reporting of hospital infections.

Professionals at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published a report in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, outlining the legislation that impacts hospital reporting. It shows the extremely limited requirements facing hospitals in informing the public of their rates of infection. Only 8 states require hospitals to make infection rate information publicly available. Even in those states, hospitals are only required to make the data available regarding 10 types of surgery, despite more than 250 possible types of surgery that patients could receive.

Hospitals have used intensive lobbying efforts to avoid the implementation of federal reporting standards. They do this despite the fact that, where they have been implemented, public reporting requirements seem to have a positive impact on healthcare quality. When hospitals are forced to acknowledge the areas where errors occur, they have an incentive to reduce those errors to continue attracting new patients.

Patients are harmed by a hospital's ability to hide inconvenient statistics. Patients are consumers of healthcare services, and like any type of consumer, they deserve to know what they are getting. Before choosing a hospital and agreeing to undergo a surgery, it should be a simple matter to determine the likelihood of acquiring a dangerous infection as a result of the procedure.

Source: Forbes, "Lack of National Reporting Mandate for Hospital Infections Hurt Consumers," by Gergana Koleva, 5 April 2012

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