Patient safety advocates often explain the value of transparency when it comes to medical errors. Sloppy service, negligent treatment, and harmful conduct by medical professionals can only truly be understood and addressed when those involved have an idea of the scope and nature of the problem. What’s more, that data needs to be available to everyone–include patients–who can then make hospital choices based on these safety records. Once medical decisions are based on quality accountability tools, then the worst-performing medical facilities may eventually be spurred to change their practices to shape up. Combined with legal accountability following medical malpractice, open information is a critical tool in tackling the still too high instances of medical mistakes.
All of this makes a recent decision from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) quite questionable. As iHealthBeat explained in an article this weekend, CMS have announced that they are making some changes to their popular “Hospital Compare” website. Hospital Compare is a free public site that allows patients to investigate hospitals on a large number of safety measures. It is a very helpful tool when patients and their families are making choices about what hospital to attend for a surgery or other medical procedures.
Yet, it seems that CMS officials have decided to remove certain medical errors records from the website. Specifically, data on patient development of eight different conditions, errors that fall under the rubric of “hospital acquired conditions,” are slated from removal from the website during the annual update set to take place in July. Those eight conditions include:
* Air embolism * Blood incompatibility * Catheter-associated infections * Falls and trauma * Foreign objects left in body after surgery * Pressure ulcers
* Uncontrolled blood sugar levels * Urinary tract infections
CMS officials tried to blunt criticism of the information removal by claiming that they hope to replace this data with a different list of hospital-acquired illnesses.
Yet, patient advocates have been quick to voice concern, noting that nothing good comes from taking away information from the public. One group that compiles its own rankings and lists of hospitals, Leapfrog, explained that “”We have a right to know if hospitals are making errors that are catastrophic to patients.” The President of Leapfrog explained that it will likely take up to two years for the replacement data to be added to the site. Why the current data will be removed now, then, does not seem in the best interests of patients.
Further, there is clear speculation that the real reason for the removal of the data is lobbying for such a change by large medical interest groups. This hospital-acquired illness data was only added two year ago–and medical professionals objected to it then. Now, it seems those health care interests may have been able to exert enough influence to reverse course and remove that medical error data from public view.
This latest CMS move is a reminder of the continued need for all those who care about patient safety to stand up and make their voices heard. The desires of healthcare companies should never get in the way of medical patients right to know basic quality indicators when making choices that could literally end in life or death.
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