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Government releases more information on hospital infections

Consumer Reports News: February 01, 2012 09:09 AM

You now have access to more information about hospital safety, thanks to a step taken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The agency released bloodstream-infection rates in intensive care units for 1,146 hospitals in Washington D.C. and all states except Wyoming. Nearly a third of the hospitals reported no infections during the reporting period. However, the release covers only the three-month period from January to March, 2011. More data, including from Wyoming, will be added later in the year.

The new data focuses on infections caused by central lines, catheters used to provide nutrition, fluid, and medication but that can also spread deadly infections throughout the body if they’re not scrupulously kept clean. An estimated 27,000 to 65,000 patients develop the infections each year, including 12,000 to 28,000 patients ICUs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Up to 25 percent of the infections are fatal.

More comprehensive information has been available to some people for years. For example, many states now regularly release hospital-infection data. And our Hospital Ratings are based on a year’s worth of data, gathered from the state reports as well as from the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization that collects safety and quality data on hospitals. But if your state doesn’t publicly report infection rates, this may be your first chance to get that information for hospitals near you.

Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, says:

Today’s action represents a milestone. Finally, Americans in all 50 states will be able to find out how well their hospital prevents these particular infections. Public disclosure drives hospitals to improve care and helps patients choose hospitals with better safety records.

The new reporting requirements apply to hospitals that participate in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “pay-for-reporting” program. Virtually all U.S. hospitals, excluding certain hospitals in rural areas that are deemed critical access hospitals, participate because they earn a higher Medicare payment for doing so. In the future, Medicare payments to hospitals will be tied to how well they protect patients from these infections and perform on other patient safety standards.

Beginning this month, hospitals have also started reporting surgical-site infection rates to the CDC. That information will be posted on the government’s Hospital Compare website every quarter beginning in 2013.

For information on more than 3,000 hospitals in all states, including infection Ratings for over 1,000 of them, see our hospital Ratings. Or try our new hospital Ratings app, which can be downloaded from the iTunes app store for $2.99. And see our hospital survival guide for advice on staying safe in the hospital.

If you can’t find your local hospitals in our Ratings, check for the newly released data on Hospital Compare. Consumer Union’s Safe Patient Project offers tips to make the most of the Hospital Compare. Or see a list of publicly available state databases.

Joel Keehn

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