Medicare Reverses Decision to Withhold Some Hospital Information … Sort of

Last month we wrote about the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) quietly deciding to withhold some information about hospitals that make medical errors, but the feds apparently saw the error in that, and corrected their poor judgment. In a way.

As reported by USAToday.com, regulators will resume releasing data about serious hospital mistakes, including incidents of people being given the wrong blood type and foreign objects being left in the bodies of surgical patients. But it won’t be restored to Hospital Compare, the public website where people can look up information by searching the records of hospitals in their area.

The restored data will be used only for other safety ratings and researchers, such as the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization composed of businesses and organizations whose mission is to improve the quality, safety and cost-efficiency of health care. It publishes a hospital safety rating.

The data won’t be back until later this year.

The American Association for Justice (AAJ) said, “This is a positive step by CMS to increase transparency, but there is still no simple way for patients to find out the safety record of a hospital.” AAJ invites consumers to join Take Justice Back, its public education campaign to impress upon Congress the need for more, not less, accountability and safety in the U.S. health-care system.

The effort is gaining in popularity. As USA Today reported, the increasing pressure on regulators and hospitals to be more forthcoming about safety and pricing is being applied by business as well as consumer advocates. Transparency was one of the three health-care policy recommendations recently issued by the Business Roundtable, a prestigious organization of CEOs.

Eight categories of “hospital-acquired conditions” (HACs) were yanked by CMS from Hospital Compare over the summer, although they remained available on a public spreadsheet that generally only data nerds and researchers could make sense of.

Before the HAC data were removed, Hospital Compare showed how often many of these conditions occurred at thousands of acute-care hospitals in the U.S. Acute-care hospitals take care of patients for as long as 25 days to treat severe injuries or illnesses, and/or while recovering from surgery. CMS maintained public information for the rate of occurrence for 13 conditions, including infections such as MRSA and sepsis after surgery, but dumped eight others.

As you might expect, many hospital officials oppose releasing information about the additional hospital mistakes. They believe that some incidents don’t occur often enough for the information to be reliable.

Our feeling is that if you provide sufficient information in an appropriate context, people can figure out what they need to know, and can separate possibilities of concern from possibilities so remote as to be irrelevant.

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