Conn. Patient Group Advocating Hospital Infection Disclosure

January 23, 2006

A patient safety group in Connecticut is pushing for a law that would require hospitals to track and publicly disclose cases of infections contracted in hospitals.

The measure, according to the Connecticut Center for Patient Safety, could save hundreds of lives a year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that infections acquired in hospitals kill more than 90,000 Americans every year. That’s more than die in car crashes and homicides combined.

“Many hospitals are doing virtually nothing about it,” said Jean Rexford, the group’s executive director. “You can’t sue them, because it’s pretty much impossible to prove an infection came from the hospital.”

Six states currently have laws that require public disclosure of rates infections acquired in a hospital or other health care facilities. Two other states require reporting, but not public disclosure of the results. Some Connecticut lawmakers say they expect the issue to be raised in the coming legislative session.

The state has a process for reporting a wide range of “adverse events” at health care facilities and many hospitals do track major infections and disclose the results to hospital staff, who use the information to improve quality. But few disclose those results to the public.

The CDC’s federal tracking and reporting system has been in place for 30 years, but only 315 hospitals participate in the voluntary system.

A number of health care providers in the state said the question of when a hospital is responsible for an infection is so complicated that the wrong reporting system could do more harm than good.

“It depends entirely on the patient and on the condition they’re in,” said Kimberly K. Hostetler, spokeswoman for the Connecticut Hospitals Association.

She cited a hypothetical situation of a patient who gets an infection after being discharged.

“Does that mean the patient got the infection in the hospital and no one noticed? Or does it mean they got the infection after leaving?” she said.

The CHA, which represents the state’s 30 acute care hospitals and other health care facilities, has met with the patient safety group and plans to do so again on the subject of infection, she said.

“The topic of infection is obviously something we’re very concerned about,” Hostetler said.

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