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Will Public Get to See Hospital Infection Rates?


Senate postpones consideration of bill that could preempt state reporting laws

December 16, 2003

As important gains to publicize the infection rates of local hospitals are being made at the state level, Congress has postponed action on a bill (S. 720) that Consumers Union believes could jeopardize those very same states’ ability to move forward in this area to protect their citizens. The delay allows more time for the Senate to address these important preemption concerns, and more opportunities for Consumers Union and other interested groups and citizens to press their case in Congress.
Hospital-acquired infections claim approximately 90,000 lives each year in the U.S., and one in 20 hospital stays leads to a hospital-acquired infection. “Our goal is to make hospital infection rates public in each and every community in America so consumers can make informed decisions when choosing a hospital,” said Lisa McGiffert, campaign manager for www.StopHospitalInfections.org, a project of Consumers Union.
“We’re looking at crafting a model law along the lines of the ones passed in Illinois and Pennsylvania and working with local groups to help pass it in other states,” McGiffert said.
Medical error legislation, H.R. 663, passed the House earlier this year but the Senate did not take up consideration of its medical errors bill, S. 720, before recessing for the holidays. The bill could be taken up again at any point after Congress returns in late January 2004. Consumers Union is working with key Senators to clarify that the legislation would not preempt current or future state hospital quality and safety reporting laws.
Meanwhile, the issue is picking up steam across the country. An ABC-TV PrimeTime investigation into the death of broadcaster Dick Schapp, who died from a hospital infection, and an earlier story in the Wall Street Journal, have brought national attention to the problem. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published a multi-series investigative report that has accelerated administrative reforms in that state. This report followed in the footsteps of a Chicago Tribune series in 2002 that led to the passage of the nation’s first comprehensive hospital infection reporting law. That law is now in the process of being implemented.
But, the pending legislation in Congress is still unclear as to whether such efforts can continue. Without clarification, the Senate legislation may keep all types of “patient safety data” hidden from public view. “Patient safety data” is defined so broadly that it could cover hospital infection rates and outcome measures on specific medical procedures, thus keeping this valuable information from public view.
Hospital infections are a little-known but deadly problem:
 Hospital infections are the sixth leading cause of deaths in the U.S.
 About two million patients contract infections unrelated to their original condition during their stay in the hospital.
 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that hospital acquired infections add $5 billion annually to direct patient care costs.
Where states have reported mortality rates at specific hospitals, publicizing the information is credited with a significant drop in mortality rates. Consumers Union’s new web site, www.StopHospitalInfections.org gives the public easy access to vital consumer health information and a direct route to communicate with public officials and demand that their hospitals be made safer.