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Three big-name hospitals stop publicly reporting some infection data

Consumer Reports News: October 24, 2011 06:08 AM

Three large hospital systems—Cleveland Clinic, Henry Ford in Detroit, and Parkview Health in Fort Wayne, Ind.—have stopped reporting data on hospital-acquired infections to the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., according to our updated hospital Ratings. That deprives consumers of important information on hospital safety.

John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, says:

Consumers in Cleveland, Detroit, Fort Wayne, and other cities and towns in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida are less well informed today about hospitals in their communities than they were a few months ago.

Eileen Sheil, executive director of corporate communications for Cleveland Clinic, said that the hospital system stopped reporting to the Leapfrog group so it could focus its efforts on reports it makes to similar government-run databases. That includes one run by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that all hospitals must now report to. “We are committed to safe, high-quality outcomes and transparency,” said Sheil.

But data submitted to CMS is not yet publicly available. And in our earlier analysis of brand-name hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic Health System appeared near the bottom of our Ratings on bloodstream infections, with a rate that was, overall, 41 percent worse than the national average, based on 2009 data from eight of its 11 hospitals.

Cleveland Clinic hospitals still do publicly report some information, such as surgical-site infection rates, to a state-run database. In that measure, five of its hospitals got our second highest rating. And in our previous study, two Cleveland Clinic hospitals—Euclid Hospital in Euclid, Ohio and Huron Hospital in Cleveland—performed very well in preventing bloodstream infections, reporting zero infections. But since they no longer report information on bloodstream infections, we don’t know if they have continued to perform as well in that measure.

“What should consumers think when no information is provided?” asks Dr. Santa. “Cleveland Clinic still reports its bloodstream-infection rates on its website but it’s hard to find and difficult to compare to data from other sources. Cleveland Clinic is rightfully proud of the many positive reports on its care. But it should also be accountable for care that needs to be improved in some of its hospitals. And part of that accountability is to be transparent with patients when problems occur.”

It’s not just poor-performing hospitals that stopped reporting to the Leapfrog Group. Parkview Health got an average Rating in bloodstream infections in our last analysis of five of its hospitals in Indiana. And Henry Ford Health System was above average, based on data from five of its six hospitals in Michigan. “It’s a simple resource issue,” says William Conway, M.D., senior vice president and chief quality officer at Henry Ford. “Since we now have an increasing volume of reporting to CMS, I can’t afford duplicate reporting.”

“I’m sympathetic to the resource problems,” says Dr. Santa. “But I’m sympathetic to patients, too. They need as much information as they can to make informed choices when choosing a hospital.”

Many other hospitals, including teaching hospitals, also don’t make their data easily available to consumers.

Leah Binder, chief executive officer of the Leapfrog Group points out that much of the information hospitals report to her group differs from what they submit to CMS. Moreover, Binder says, “We don’t believe transparency is optional. We do believe that the variation in rates of these types of infections is significant and points to the need for increased, not decreased attention, from hospitals, and also from consumers.” She also praised hospitals that have continued reporting, including Detroit Medical Center hospitals and the University Hospitals in Cleveland.

For details, see our hospital Ratings, and our report on deadly bloodstream infections. In addition, see our advice on how to stay safe in the hospital.

Joel Keehn

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