In a move that seems confusing to say the least, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has stopped publicly reporting when hospitals leave foreign objects in patients, along with other serious mistakes.
These errors are part of a list of what are called “Hospital-Acquired Conditions” (HACs) which are considered preventable. According to CMS, Hospital-Acquired Conditions are “conditions that patients did not have when they were admitted to the hospital, but which developed during the hospital stay. “
The government-operated Hospital Compare website lists how often many HACs occurred at acute care hospitals, where patients stay up to 25 days recovering from serious injuries or illnesses. USA Today has reported that last summer, CMS removed the data on leaving foreign objects and seven other HACs from the Hospital Compare website. CMS did leave the data on another site, in a format available to those who knew what the reporting meant. Then, as of August of this year, the data on those eight HACs is no longer available anywhere. According to USA Today, “Now researchers have to calculate their own rates using claims data.”
CMS is still reporting the occurrence for 13 other Hospital-Acquired Conditions, including infections, such as sepsis after surgery. According to CMS, the change is intended to provide data that is “more comprehensive and most relevant to consumers.” Proponents say the new data uses different, “more reliable” measures than the removed measures, which they believe are not useful when comparing hospitals.
Patient advocates disagree. According to USA Today, the HACs that are no longer reported, are rare events that should never happen in hospitals, which advocates argue are all the more important for the public to know about.
“People deserve to know if the hospital down the street from them has had a disastrous event and should be able to judge for themselves whether that’s a reasonable indicator of the safety of that hospital,” Leah Binder, CEO of the nonprofit Leapfrog Group, told USA Today.
Furthermore, although the advisory panel that approved the change includes consumer and patient advocates, there is evidence that the whole process is so confusing some of them didn’t know what they were voting for.
One member of the advisory group became active in hospital safety after her son died from surgery complications in 2000. She told USA Today that she thought some members thought they were voting to strengthen, not weaken the reporting system:
“When we voted, I certainly didn’t think it would result in the (hospital acquired conditions) being removed from Hospital Compare.”