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To Enhance Hospital Safety, Experts Suggest Publishing Hospital Stats

Most of us would hardly go to a restaurant where we planned to spend big bucks without checking out the reviews online or in a Zagat report.  However, most of us will go to a hospital without any information about a hospital’s safety record and this is a dicier decision than go to a restaurant and spending a lot of money on bad food.  In fact, until recently hospital safety experts believed that preventable hospital errors caused approximately 98,000 deaths per year, but new data suggests that that number may be as high as 440,000 deaths per year.  This is definitely cause for patients to have access to information that would help them make wise decisions about their medical care.

Better Access to Hospital Safety Data Will Make Hospitals Safer

In a recent NYT blog, Tina Rosenberg argued that patients having better access to hospital safety data will force hospitals to become safer, and I think she’s got a point.  Hospital transparency and accountability can dramatically improve the current statistics on preventable errors that cause death, or even nonlethal but serious harm.  For example, data suggests that 10 to 20 times the number of people who died from preventable medical errors are seriously harmed (that’s 4,400,000 to 8,800,000 people).  Ultimately, Rosenberg argues that:

Just as publishing health care prices will drive them down, publishing safety information will drive hospital safety up.

Better Measurement Techniques Needed for Patients to Accurately Assess Hospital Safety

Currently, patients can access hospital safety data in a few ways.  One of the most popular is probably Consumer Reports or U.S. News’ Best Hospital Report.  However, what is currently an issue is the fact that there is generally no continuity between safety data measurement items.  For example, one hospital may rank at the top of Consumer Reports’ list, but rank near the bottom of U.S. News’ report because they use different criterion to arrive at their hospital safety rankings.  This isn’t very helpful for patients–what is really needed is data that is uniform and easily accessible and understandable to patients.  The best method of garnering important data is probably having doctors honestly and consistently report medical errors.

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