Health & wellness

Data on hospital errors to be deleted

Federal agency says it will devise new measures

WASHINGTON — Two years ago, over objections from the hospital industry, the federal government announced it would add data about ‘‘potentially life-threatening’’ mistakes made in hospitals to a website people can search to check on safety performance.

Now the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services plan to remove the eight hospital-acquired conditions, which include infections and mismatched blood transfusions, while it comes up with a different set. The agency said it’s doing so because some of the eight are redundant and because an advisory panel created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act recommended regulators use other gauges.

But that decision reneges on a commitment to transparency, according to organizations representing employers that help pay for health insurance.


‘‘What they’re saying basically is hospital claims of unfairness have more weight than consumers’ right to know,’’ said Leah Binder, president of the Washington-based Leapfrog Group, whose members include General Motors and Verizon Communications. ‘‘We have a right to know if hospitals are making errors that are catastrophic to patients.’’

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The initial proposal the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have made for new safety-assessment data suggests the Hospital Compare website will be less comprehensive, Binder said.

The debate over public reporting of hospital errors underscores the challenges regulators face in balancing patient and provider interests in an economy that spends $2.7 trillion a year on medical care, about one-third of it at hospitals.

The statistics were first posted in October 2011. CMS officials have said they’ll be removed during the website’s annual update in July, according to Binder and the American Hospital Association.

Binder estimated it could be two years before data from the new hospital-acquired conditions appear on the website.


Patrick Conway, CMS’ chief medical officer and top quality-control official, declined to be interviewed.

The hospital industry argued against adding the statistics to Hospital Compare from the beginning, contending the data, culled from Medicare billing records, aren’t precise enough and can paint inaccurate pictures.

‘‘Our members have long been in favor of transparency,’’ said Nancy Foster, vice president for quality and patient safety policy at the Washington-based American Hospital Association.

‘‘The only thing we have insisted upon,’’ Foster said, “is that the measures be accurate and fair, that they represent a real picture of what’s going on in an individual hospital if you’re going to put it up on a public website.’’