Alarming New Study on Georgia Hospital Infection Rates Opens Discussion for Healthcare Law Reform

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As a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney who handles Georgia medical malpractice cases, it has always troubled me that Georgia hospital infection rates have never been accessible to the common consumer. Patients are left in the dark about which hospitals offer safe environments in terms of deadly infection rates. This may soon change. A new medicare database has recently issued an unprecedented study on hospital infection rates in Georgia that will finally shed light on this controversial healthcare topic.

Georgia currently has no laws requiring hospitals to disclose their infection rates to the public. Instead, the Department of Community Health (DCH) exclusively monitors infections and works with the CDCP to address any issues or causes for concern. This leaves the public completely ignorant and, therefore, incapable of making an informed decision about which hospital can offer the safest facilities.

I will never understand why restaurants are required to post their health inspection scores for all to see, but hospitals, where people entrust their own lives, have the luxury of withholding their uncleanliness and infection rates from the public. I think I speak for many when I say that having peace of mind before entering surgery is perhaps a little more important than having it before eating a sandwich at the local deli.

GHA and other defendants of the current system claim that hospitals must remain “cautious” about public reporting because an accurate method for comparison has yet to be developed. I’m not buying this at all. How difficult can it be to formulate a fair and balanced method for public disclosures? The 28 states that already require public disclosure of infection rates figured out a viable method. The State of Georgia should be able to as well.

Speaking of “fair,” Kevin Boyle, the spokesperson for the Georgia Hospital Association, was quoted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, stating, “More transparency is what the public wants, and we’re responsible to that.” “But the key is what report is right and fair to each of the stakeholders involved.” Are you kidding me? So let’s concentrate on what is fiscally fair to the “stakeholders” involved before we can even think about what is right for the patients? This is absurd. Georgia Government and its infection-ridden hospitals should be more concerned with disclosing vital information pertinent to the safety of their patient’s lives.

Proof of the current system’s flaws can be found in a new federal database at www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov. Released by medicare, it provides the public with report rates of 2 types of infections and 6 other preventable conditions The study was conducted using billing records from medicare patients. This is the first and only source available for Georgians when it comes to infection rates in their hospitals. Georgia Watch, a consumer watch-dog in Georgia, has been hot on the issue of hospital-acquired infections for years now, with the rights of Georgia citizens to know at the forefront of their mission.

Not surprisingly, hospitals across Georgia have responded with vicious attacks of the study. Opponents assert that the study lacks scientific validity because it was based on imprecise and outdated billing information that fails to account for the varying conditions of each hospital’s patient population. The true reason for such widespread dissent, however, perhaps resulted from the embarrassing results.

Studies from the database show that most Atlanta hospitals had at least one case of potentially deadly catheter-related blood stream infection or “central line” infection. Bringing in the rear is Emory Hospital, which boasts the highest infection rate in the state and one of the highest in the nation. Typically, hospitals may report 1-3 central line infection cases per year. Emory had 36, earning 4th place for highest central line infection rates out of 3,300 hospitals nationwide.

These reports released by Medicare may not portray the most accurate depiction of the safety of our hospitals; however, as long as patients have no other alternate source of information, then it’s the only measurement that can be taken into consideration when trying to determine the safest hospitable. In the United States, an estimated 100,000 deaths per year are attributable to these types of infections. That’s more than breast cancer. Hospitals and lawmakers across the State of Georgia should use this as a wake-up call and an opportunity to minimize preventable deaths by finding solutions to this infectious epidemic. Georgia citizens deserve better.

Sources:

http://www.ajc.com/health/when-the-treatment-makes-974175.html

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgians-kept-in-dark-975123.html

http://www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov/