As many as 100,000 people die each year from an infection acquired while in the hospital. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the hospital costs associated with such infections may be as high as $45 billion annually.
Now, the Department of Health and Human Services is publishing online on its hospital comparison page how hospitals compare in terms of central line blood infections in intensive care units. Other hospital-acquired infections data will be added soon, according to Consumers Union, one of a number of patient-safety advocates who have fought for release of the data.
"Consumer advocates across the nation have worked tirelessly to end the secrecy over hospital infection rates," said Lisa McGiffert, director of the union's Safe Patient Project, in a written statement. "This is a milestone for patient safety that begins to make hospitals accountable for the two million patients who are infected each year. Finally, Americans in all 50 states wil be able to find out how well their hospital prevents these particular infections. Public disclosure drives hospitals to improve care and helps patients choose hospitals with better safety records."
Hospital-acquired infections are a patient safety hot button issue. According to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, as of October 2011, 27 states required public reporting of hospital-acquired infection rates, while two allowed confidential reporting. Three had voluntary public reporting and five had "study laws" on public reporting. No reporting laws existed in 13 states and the District of Columbia, though some those state legislatures are considering reporting requirements.
Consumer Union, which is the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, offers tips on how to access the newly available information.
McGiffert noted that "if your hospital is no different than the national benchmark, that means too many patients are still suffering and dying from infections that could have been prevented with better care."
According to CDC data, as many as one in four patients who acquire a central line blood infection in the hospital die. In 2009, 18,000 patients acquired such an infection while in intensive care.
The data now being presented online goes back only three months, covering January to March of last year. As time passes, a longer and more representative record will be built, experts said.
Starting in 2013, hospitals will report surgical-site infection rates to the CDC and the information will be posted on Hospital Compare every quarter. The first two slated to be tracked are abdominal hysterectomy and colon surgeries. Surgical-site infections are believed to make up about one fifth of all hospital-acquired infections. Also sometime in 2013, data on catheter-associated urinary tract infection rates will be available.
Besides tracking various complications, Hospital Compare also publishes patient satisfaction survey results and lists complication rates and outcomes for common conditions that bring people to the hospital, such as heart attack. Up to three hospitals can be compared at a time.
Reporting is required by hospitals that are part of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “pay-for-reporting” program, which includes the vast majority of hospitals since they are paid by Medicare at a higher rate. The exceptions are hospitals in rural areas deemed "critical access hospitals." Consumer Reports notes that Medicare payments to hospitals will soon hinge on "how well they protect patients from these infections and perform on other patient safety standards."
The infection and safety data, while collected as part of Medicare, is not just from Medicare patients.
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