Patients are at the mercy of hospitals, which makes patients susceptible to medical malpractice. While a few tools have been developed to help patients make more informed decisions when choosing a primary care physician, when it comes to choosing a hospital there is often little choice. Smaller communities may only have one or two hospitals, and even in larger communities often the closest hospital becomes the default.
The exception to this rule is when it comes to babies. From selecting a hospital for delivery, to planning serious surgeries that young children may need, parents do everything they can to find the best treatment facility possible. That is why it is so horrifying that a Florida hospital has been keeping its shockingly high surgical death rate a secret from parents.
Hospital Hides Surgical Death Rate From Parents
CNN broke the story of St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. The problem is with the hospital’s pediatric heart surgery program. At the end of 2013 the number of babies who died while having heart surgery at this hospital was three times the national average. At least eight babies have been killed since the program began in December of 2011. And the parents of these children claim that no one told them that the hospital was so inexperienced when it comes to performing these surgeries.
At least one mother claims to have been affirmatively lied to regarding her surgeon’s success rate. She says she was led to believe she was going to have a superstar surgeon for her child who had not lost any patients in these surgeries at St. Mary’s. In reality, when her child died, she was the fourth child to die since the program began. The hospital’s death rate for children and babies undergoing open heart surgery between 2011 and 2013 was 12.5%, while the national average is 3.3% according to the Society for Thoracic Surgeons.
Part of the reason for the high death rate may be St. Mary’s low number of surgeries. In 2013 the hospital only did 23 of the heart operations. Meanwhile, 40% of pediatric heart surgery programs in the United States perform over 250 of these surgeries a year, and 80% perform at least 100 surgeries. Fewer surgeries means less experience, which leads to poor outcomes for the child patients involved.
There Was No Way for the Parents to Know
It would be nice if the takeaway from all of this were that parents need to be careful to research any hospital that they take their children to for treatment. But that would not have helped any of these parents. Their cardiologists had recommended the program. The hospital’s website talks about the program in glowing terms. But there is no actual data. Unlike other similar programs in Florida, St. Mary’s does not publicly report its mortality rate.
For CNN to uncover the mortality rate it had to jump through the hoops of filing Freedom of Information Requests. Not only should parents not have to do that, but when they have a sick child and a decision needs to be made they likely do not have time to do that. Not to mention parents are not always trained journalists or attorneys so they may have no experience with requesting this sort of record.
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