Records of hospital errors will no longer be accessible to the public this month after the federal government quietly stopped releasing data. Last year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) promised they weren’t going to stop reporting hospital errors, but the missing data this month proves otherwise.
There are people who have concerns and want to see which hospitals have the highest rates of error, which include leaving foreign objects in patients’ bodies after surgery, causing embolism air bubbles that kill patients when they enter veins or hearts, giving people the wrong blood types, or making a list of other life-threatening mistakes. CMS removed “hospital acquired conditions” (HAC) data from its site and public spreadsheets, which had allowed users to compare different hospitals to each other so the potential patient could make an informed decision. This month all of the information has been wiped out, and now those who would like to know what errors hospitals are making have to figure it out on their own by using claims data.
“When we voted, I certainly didn’t think it would result in the (hospital acquired conditions) being removed from Hospital Compare,” said patient-safety advocate Helen Haskell, whose son died from a reaction to medication given to him in the hospital after surgery in 2000. Haskell is a member of the hospital working group who was misled to believe they were voting to strengthen the dissemination of public information.
CMS used to reports thousands of hospital errors across the U.S., including acute care hospitals, which have patients stay for severe injuries or illnesses, or while recovering from surgery. Today, CMS is only reporting on 13 different conditions that they believe are more reliable measurements to reflect the hospital’s efficacy. They said they’re basing their new data sets to include those similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The changes will make it “more comprehensive and most relevant to consumers,” spokesman Aaron Albright said in an emailed statement to USA Today. He said the new measures received “strong support” from a partnership of the National Quality Forum (NQF), which is a public-private entity that reviews performance measures they think could be useful in federal or private reporting and payment programs. CMS prefers to use NQF-endorsed measures because they “offer a rigorous and thorough review process.”
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires 25 percent of hospitals with the highest rate of errors and HACs receive one percent less in Medicare reimbursement than other hospitals. It’s an incentive for hospitals to decrease the amount of hip fractures, post-surgery sepsis occurrences, and other diseases. If the patient’s treatment is covered under Medicare or Medicaid and an error occurred on the hospital's part, additional reimbursements will be withheld from the hospital.
Imagine being one of the patients who has a retained surgical item, such as a left behind gauze pad, cotton sponge, forceps, clamp, or other hardware? The consequences can be catastrophic and patients are unable to see how many times their hospital has made these careless mistakes that cost people their lives. The federal government is no longer required to report when hospitals leave sponges or other items in patients, which happens between 4,500 and 6,000 times a year and sponges alone account for more than two-thirds of all incidents, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“People deserve to know if the hospital down the street from them had a disastrous event and should be able to judge for themselves whether that’s a reasonable indicator of the safety of that hospital,” said Leah Binder, CEO of the Leapfrog Group, which issues hospital safety ratings.