One of the most common ways to evaluate a healthcare provider is to examine their post-op infection rates. That data, however, is incomplete. There is much more that goes into safety than infection rates, and even those may not be current or tell the whole story.
As reported recently in the Orange County Register, some infections don’t get reported unless providers are required to turn over information. Details of conditions inside Mission Hospital [in Orange County, CA] – which temporarily closed its 14 operating rooms last fall because of a small outbreak of infections associated with orthopedic surgeries – were hidden by the federal government for six months. The final report was only presented after an Open Public Records Act request in the spring.
“These kinds of inspections are the checks and balances to make sure the hospital is doing what it’s supposed to be doing, but there’s a lack of awareness on the part of the public,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “Part of that is because this type of information is kept secret.”
While the hospital was required to report infection rates, it was not required to report the specific infection that caused closure of the operating rooms, nor was it required to disclose the full government report detailing the closures. A Register review of inspection reports for five major Orange County hospitals found issues such as lack of hand-hygiene compliance, rusty procedure tables and improper sterilization of surgical tools. These common issues would not be found in required hospital infection data.
A hospital might have an infection rate comparable to or better than state and national averages, but still might get cited for a number of deficiencies.
“Unfortunately, tens of thousands of patients die each year from medical errors. By bringing these reports into public view, we can encourage the kinds of improvement that will save lives,” said Len Bruzzese, with the Association of Health Care Journalists, which publishes details from inspection reports since 2011 online.