U.S. Government Drops Hospital-Mistake Reports

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August 6, 2014

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The federal government this month quietly stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients' bodies or make a host of other life-threatening mistakes.

The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems such as air embolisms—air bubbles that can kill patients when they enter veins and hearts— or giving people the wrong blood type.

CMS' hospital comparison website used to contain data on eight of these "hospital-acquired conditions" (HACs), but now CMS reports the rate of occurrence for 13 conditions, including infections such as MRSA, but has dropped others. CMS said some of the new data is more reliable for the same conditions.

The changes make it "more comprehensive and most relevant to consumers," spokesman Aaron Albright wrote in an e-mail.

The Affordable Care Act mandates that the 25% of hospitals with the highest rates of certain other HACs, including hip fractures or sepsis after surgery, receive up to 1% less in Medicare reimbursement. Although CMS and the American Hospital Association question the reliability of the data on other mistakes including foreign objects left behind after surgery, those data are also considered reliable enough to penalize hospitals.

If mistake reporting isn't reliable, it "defeats the purpose of being transparent," American Hospital Association Vice President Nancy Foster said.

However, Leah Binder of Leapfrog Group, a healthcare watchdog non-profit organization, said, "People deserve to know if the hospital down the street from them had a disastrous event."

The original headline for this article was: “Feds drop hospital-mistake reports; Public loses access to data on many errors.”

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