Massachusetts State health regulators yesterday approved a plan to issue report cards on infection rates for each hospital and to post that information on a state government website, reports The Boston Globe. It is not clear when the information will be posted on a website, in part because the Department of Public Health and another agency are considering combining quality data on a single site.
Initially, the online report card will be limited to infections caught by patients who have undergone knee and hip surgery, as well as patients who have had central venous catheters inserted in intensive-care units. The catheters are typically placed in the arm or neck and threaded to big veins near the heart. They remain in place for days or weeks and can be used to deliver chemotherapy or thick mixtures of liquid food. They can also deliver dangerous germs deep into the body.
Those procedures are conducted so commonly that they allow for reliable hospital-to-hospital comparisons. Ultimately, regulators expect to make other infection rates public through the online report card.
A state report last summer found that potentially lethal infections contracted during hospital stays could be responsible for up to $473 million in medical costs annually in Massachusetts, a reflection of extended hospital stays and medication and surgical costs. National studies estimate that up to 90,000 patients a year die because of infections they catch while in medical facilities, with deadly germs gaining entry through surgical incisions and catheters and sometimes transmitted by doctors and nurses who fail to wash their hands.
After years of scant attention, infections have become central to the growing movement to improve patient care and make the operations of hospitals more transparent. More and more, hospitals are paying for their mistakes: Some facilities have voluntarily stopped charging for costs related to preventable infections, and later this year, Medicare will halt payments for conditions linked to mistakes.