Hospitals are penalized for harming patients, part two

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 3, 2017

By Trudy Lieberman

Anyone facing a hospital stay for themselves or a family member should look at new data the government released right before Christmas showing that it penalized 769 of the nation’s hospitals for having high rates of patient injuries.

The monetary penalties – a reduction for the year in their reimbursement for treating Medicare patients – do bite. Larger teaching hospitals could lose as much as $1 million or more.

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In the early days of Lisa McGiffert’s campaign, government agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were reluctant to back public reporting of hospital mistakes and other data to help patients.

Now they support it. Still, she says, “what I am most frustrated about is the lack of urgency in the country and at the agencies for eliminating these infections.

They are aware of them, but there’s not a sense of urgency to stop them.”

The financial penalties levied by the Medicare agency have made a significant difference because they get the hospital CEO’s attention. Unless the CEO is involved, change is not going to happen.

But the penalties along with the entire program to eliminate hospital-acquired conditions were authorized under the Affordable Care Act.

They could be in jeopardy if the law is repealed.

Some hospitals probably would be happy if they disappeared.

Patients need to make use of the data that is available and study it to inform their decisions about where to go for care when they have a choice.  McGiffert advises looking at how your hospital compares to similar facilities.

Look for improvement. If a hospital was penalized the first or second year of the program but not this year, that indicates it could be serious about safety.

Also look to see if a facility’s scores are moving in the right direction. If the numbers show they are not performing as well on some dimension as they previously were, patients need to ask why.

Some states and some hospitals are using other strategies. Illinois and California, for example, have passed legislation that requires hospitals to screen for MRSA when patients are admitted. Some hospitals have stewardship programs to address the overuse of antibiotics, which contributes to drug resistance.

To start learning about your hospital, consult the government’s Hospital Compare website Follow the prompts to find the hospital you are looking for and then search the tabs for “complications.” This will let you look at actual numbers to help you see how your hospital is doing.