Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A growing number of states are requiring hospitals to report how many patients come down with infections while in their care. Disclosure is meant to inform consumers, while pressuring hospitals to deliver better care.
As many as 2 million patients develop infections in U.S. hospitals each year, leading to some 90,000 deaths. Four states--Florida, Illinois, Missouri and Pennsylvania--are developing reporting standards for hospitals to disclose their infection rates. Legislatures in 28 more states are debating the issue, according to Consumers Union, which is running a nationwide lobbying campaign for disclosure. "Low infection rates are an indicator of good-quality care," says Lisa McGiffert, the campaign's director. "Right now, hospitals have no idea how they compare with others in their area or state."
Hospitals have viewed the disclosure push skeptically but are coming around to it. The reason for their caution is that infections data are hard to calculate. A single hospital-wide infection figure would mislead the public, because some hospitals take on patients with conditions that make them more prone to infections--bone marrow transplants, for example--than others. Plus, hospitals don't collect much data on infections now, so this represents a new administrative burden for them.
In Pennsylvania, state officials and hospitals agreed that the best reporting strategy is to be specific. Disclosure will focus first on certain types of infections acquired in hospitals--urinary tract infections, for example--or infections resulting from certain types of surgeries and procedures. "Our goal," says Paula Bussard, policy director for the association of Pennsylvania hospitals, "is to provide data that is both useful to the public, and usable by practitioners."
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