Published On: 9.11.2014 Charlotte, NC

Feds To Release Hospital Mistake Data

By Robert Dill of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates


Federal regulators are reversing course and will resume publicly releasing data on hospital mistakes, including when foreign objects are left in patients’ bodies or people get the wrong blood type.

USA TODAY reported last month that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services quietly stopped publicly reporting a host of life-threatening mistakes, after denying in 2013 that it would do so.

CMS says it will make this data on eight “hospital-acquired conditions” (HACs) available on its website. “We are working to make it available as a public-use file for researchers and others who are interested in the data,” CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said in an e-mail. “It’s been requested, so we will make it available.”

The data were removed last summer from CMS’ hospital comparison site but kept on a public spreadsheet that could be accessed by quality researchers, patient-safety advocates and consumers who could translate it.

Then, last month, it was gone altogether. It’s coming back, although the data are not expected to be available until later this year, said Leah Binder, CEO of the Leapfrog Group, a non-profit organization that publishes hospital safety ratings. She expects to incorporate it in her ratings that come out in the spring.

“I commend CMS for their commitment to transparency,” Binder said. “This is good news for the public.”

There is growing pressure on regulators and hospitals to be more forthcoming about safety and pricing. Increased transparency was one of the three health care policy recommendations issued by the CEO group Business Roundtable last week.

Health care “is a market where it’s very hard to know what you’re buying,” said Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesar’s Entertainment and chairman of the Business Roundtable’s health and retirement committee.

He recommends, for example, that people considering elective surgeries such as knee replacements get a second opinion and research the infection rates at hospitals they are considering.

Before the data were removed, the Hospital Compare website listed how often many hospital-acquired conditions occurred at thousands of acute-care hospitals in the U.S. Acute-care hospitals are those where patients stay up to 25 days for treatment of severe injuries or illnesses and/or while recovering from surgery. After the change, CMS reported the rate of occurrence for 13 conditions, including infections such as MRSA and sepsis after surgery, but it dropped other information.

The information CMS has agreed to release will not be part of Hospital Compare but will be used for other safety ratings and researchers, including Leapfrog.

Last month, CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said the agency changed what it reports to make it “more comprehensive and most relevant to consumers.” In a very small amount of surgeries, surgical supplies are accidentally left inside a patient. In those rare cases, it is usually a surgical sponge.

Hospital officials opposed the release of the additional hospital mistakes, arguing some incidents, such as foreign objects left in bodies, don’t happen often enough for the information to be reliable.

USA TODAY reported in March 2013 that foreign objects may be retained after surgery twice as often as the government estimates, or up to 6,000 times a year.

ponges, which can embed in intestines, account for more than two-thirds of all incidents. For patients who survive, the complications can last a lifetime, leading some to lose parts of their intestines. What surgeons leave behind costs some patients dearly.

Doctors found several sponges inside Lenny LeClair months after he had abdominal surgery in 2006. He had part of his intestine removed, endured multiple surgeries and is still in pain eight years later.

“It should be public knowledge,” LeClair said. “If I had had that option, God only knows what I would have found out.”

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