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No National Hospital Infection Reporting Standards

Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm has explained that one of the initial barriers to systematically eliminating preventable medical errors is coming up with proper reporting requirements for those errors. It is impossible to come up with universal solutions and attract the will to make the changes happen unless there is clear understanding of the problem’s scope. The harm to patients as a result of this lack of reporting is hard to underestimate.

Last week a new post from Forbes discussed this lack of universal reporting in one area of medical harm: hospital-acquired infections. The story explains how currently each hospital can basically use its own discretion when determining what constitutes a reportable infection. This has severe consistency consequences according to a new study from the Journal for Healthcare Quality. The report indicated that the research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed that even when considering just infections caused as a result of surgery, there are 8,000 preventable medical deaths and more than $10 billion in healthcare spending.

However, those statistics are only rough estimates, because less than half of states across the country require monitoring and reporting of these surgical site infections at all. Then, of that group of 21, only 8 states actually make those rates accessible to the public (Illinois is not one of them). On top of that, in those few states, only 10 procedures are actually monitored for their infection rates, even though there are 250 types of surgery. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers know that this minimal accountability means that far fewer efforts are undertaken as necessary to actually eliminate these infections and make patients safer.

The lead author of the study, a surgeon at the hospital, explained the surprise that most have when they realize that important information about patient safety is hidden from the public. He said, “People are shocked when they find out that simple healthcare metrics [such as readmission rates and infection rates] are being collected, but that they are not made available to the public.”

Beyond shielding the information from the public, the collection process itself is selective and haphazard. Each state tracks different infections, have different rules for accounting for them, and then provides the information in various ways. Taken together, it is virtually impossible to get a true gauge of the specific problems, the location of those problems, and, ultimately, craft ways to tackle the problem. A 2007 article from the Journal of the American Medical Association explained that as a result of this current state of affairs, “it is difficult for consumers, payers, or regulators to…potentially make accurate inferences about the quality of care.”

Each Illinois medical malpractice attorney at our firm appreciates that without accurate information, those involved generally have to rely on anecdotal advice to understand one’s risk of suffering from medical malpractice in any capacity. This makes care riskier and costlier. It is crucial to support all legislative efforts to impose uniform standards of accountability and reporting so that accurate information about these preventable infection rates is collected, shared, and used as a spur to demand improvement.

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