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Patients Harmed by Lack of Hospital Reporting Standards

A new study by John Hopkins University researchers has determined that an alarming gap in reporting standards for hospital infections exists nationwide. The study, which was published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, concludes that the lack of standards significantly harms patients and costs the health care system billions of dollars.

The study found that although many states require monitoring and public reporting of infections after surgeries (Surgical Site Infections or SSIs), only eight actually release the data publicly, and only for 10 out of 250 surgery types. The researchers concluded that hospitals have almost total discretion in how they record and report SSI deaths. As a result, patients considering surgical procedures are either not receiving the data they need, or lack sufficient comparison data for other hospitals to properly evaluate hospital error rates and general reputation for safety.

The inconsistency among procedures that are measured, hospital reporting practices, and publicly available data makes it "difficult for consumers, payers, or regulators to compare infections within or across states." This leads to poor medical care decision-making. Critics insist that hospitals lobby against national standards because the current system protects poor-performing hospital departments.

There is no question that deficient standards harm patients. The study concluded that the lack of standards contributes to over 8,000 deaths annually and costs the national healthcare system $10 billion. Poor or incomplete data may lead patients to unknowingly choose hospital departments with alarming SSI rates. Advocates of consistent reporting standards say improved information allows patients to make more informed decisions. When the free market in surgeries works, patient safety improves and costs fall as hospitals compete to improve care.

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