Nationwide Data on HAIs and Other Medical Errors Released

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have released data on hospital-associated conditions or infections (HAIs) for the first time, and most hospitals are not pleased.

The data can be downloaded on the HospitalCompare website. It allows Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to see which hospitals are arguably more efficient or have fewer medical errors than others.

There were eight categories of medical errors reported in the data, which was collected between October 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010. The data presented contains the average national incidence of each condition, the hospitals' incidence of each condition and the hospitals' rate of condition per 1,000 discharges.

Medical Errors Endangering Patients

The eight conditions are air embolism, bedsores, falls and trauma, blood infections or incompatibility, uncontrolled blood sugar levels, foreign objects left in the body after surgery, catheter-associated infections and urinary tract infections. For some unexplained reason, the data did not include statistics on certain medical errors such as wrong site surgery and medication errors, which commonly account for a large number of medical mistakes.

Statistics from the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show that 180,000 Medicare recipients die each year from hospital mistakes, which presumably include the eight errors highlighted in the data just released, along with others not disclosed. This number dwarfs the figures on people killed in traffic accidents each year.

Hospitals are required to report the data to CMS, but only 27 states require that the information be publicly available. According to the American Hospital Association, the data might not be accurate and could mislead patients about a hospital's safety record. The association also fears that if forced to make hospital errors public, hospital staff could be reluctant to report mistakes.

According to a report published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, about one-third of HAIs are preventable. Although more widespread public reporting is just beginning, many believe that it can only enhance patient safety by coordinating information on programs designed to reduce infections, falls and other errors.

Accountability works in business and other industries that are forced to change procedures or to implement safety measures that increase training, communication and efficiency among the staff. Further, new standards and regulations can be promulgated by state legislatures, which can compare success rates and the incidence of errors in other hospitals. Patient advocacy groups and hospitals will have to see if greater transparency translates into increased patient safety.

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