Proposed law hides patient safety data from public


September 29, 2003

Proposed law hides patient safety, hospital infection data from public view

New web site — www.StopHospitalInfections.org — helps consumers voice concerns

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is asking Senators to halt the rapid advance of a bill that would make it nearly impossible for consumers to compare the quality of care provided by doctors and hospitals, as well as keep hospital infection rates from becoming public.
Medical error legislation, H.R. 663, has already passed the House, and its Senate companion, S. 720, has cleared the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The Senate bill could come to the Senate floor shortly.
These bills could set back state disclosure laws by keeping all types of “patient safety data” hidden from public view. They define “patient safety data” so broadly that the definition will cover hospital infection rates and outcome measures on specific medical procedures. This could undermine great progress made in a number of states to make public hospital infection rates and other important quality of care data. For example, earlier this year, Illinois enacted a mandatory reporting bill for hospital-acquired infections, a law that would be preempted if Congress passes S. 720.
CU is asking Senate HELP Committee leadership to add a provision in S. 720 clarifying the federal bill does not preempt state law requiring reporting of infection rates and other patient safety and quality information.
To enable consumers to voice their concerns on this legislation, Consumers Union created a new web site www.StopHospitalInfections.org. The site is designed to mobilize and educate the public on the danger of hospital infections.
“Hospitals should cure people, not make them sicker,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of www.StopHospitalInfections.org. “Making infection rates available to the public will motivate hospitals to improve conditions and guarantee patient safety. We must not destroy this important patient safety tool.”
Hospital infections are a little-known but deadly problem:

  • Hospital infections are the sixth leading cause of deaths in the U.S.
  • Hospital infections claim approximately 90,000 lives per year.
  • About two million patients contract infections unrelated to their original condition during their stay in the hospital.
  • One in every twenty people admitted to U.S. hospitals contract an infection while under care.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that hospital acquired infections add $5 billion annually to direct patient care costs.

Supporters of the pending federal legislation claim that by keeping infection rates from the public, hospitals would be encouraged to improve practices because their exposure to public scrutiny and litigation would be reduced. But there is compelling evidence that public disclosure of such data ultimately saves lives due to hospitals responding to increased public awareness.
Where states have reported mortality rates at specific hospitals, publicizing the information is credited with a significant drop in mortality rates. For example, New York collects and reports mortality rates following coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG), identifying hospitals and surgeons. The reports have been credited with prompting a significant drop in mortality. Between 1989 and 1995, the first six years data was collected, death rates following CABG fell from 3.52 deaths per 100 to 2.52. Even more striking, a few years after the report was issued, some of the worst hospitals turned their performance around completely.
Pennsylvania saw similar results following the publication of its own CABG reports beginning in the early 1990s. Between 1991 and 1995, the state documented a 22 percent decline in death rates following CABG procedures.
Consumers Union is seeking public disclosure of hospital infection rates nationwide. “Consumers Union’s new web site, www.StopHospitalInfections.org, will give the public easy access to vital consumer health information and a direct route to our public officials,” McGiffert said. “Consumers as well as employers have a stake in shining the spotlight on hospitals, promoting competition among them based on quality of care, and making them safer for patients.”
For more information contact: Lisa McGiffert (512) 477-4431;
Earl Lui, (415) 431-6747 or Ami Gadhia, (202) 462-6262