The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are on a crusade to make private health care accreditation data available to the public, believing that many major issues related to patient safety are being overlooked. CMS has taken on similar endeavors in the past and were successful – they were responsible for now public nursing home inspection reports.
Currently 9 out of 10 hospitals in the United States are surveyed by private accreditors and not the government, meaning most institutions receiving tax dollars are able to avoid making details of these reports public record. Transparency in health care has become a hot topic as reports in recent months have outed preventable medical errors as the 3rd leading cause of death in this country.
Accreditation Doesn’t Necessarily Indicate Quality
In 2014, an unidentified state health department surveyed 103 acute care hospitals that had been surveyed within the past 60 days by a private accreditor. The health department found 41 issues, 39 of which were completed overlooked by the private accreditor. In order to receive federal funding, hospitals must be able to meet a relatively low set of standards. Failure to meet these standards can lead to loss of funding, an occurrence which is extremely rare. In order to ensure that hospitals are meeting these requirements, CMS gives money to state health departments to carry out surveys, but most hospitals and healthcare facilities (including nursing homes) choose to pay private accreditors to conduct inspections instead.
The largest private accreditor, the Joint Commission, says they carry out unannounced inspections at least one time over the course of 39 months. If a facility has violations requiring further follow up, Joint Commission surveyors will return at a later date to see if the issues have been corrected. It’s worth noting that Joint Commission accreditation, dubbed ‘The Gold Seal,’ seems to be a near guarantee. Of the 4,018 hospitals listed on Joint Commission’s site, 99% have received The Gold Seal, including facilities that have a track record of patient safety violations and are known to personal injury attorneys and families in the local communities in which these hospitals serve. A 2002 Chicago Tribune investigative report revealed one Chicago area hospital was responsible for grave patient safety errors and yet still received the Gold Seal from The Joint Commission.
More Information: Helpful or a Hindrance?
A patient safety executive from the American Hospital Association argues that making such data public could potentially backfire. Any mention of a patient safety error has the potential to scare prospective patients from seeking care at that hospital, even if the reality is that the facility is far superior than nearby competitors. However, many Americans would be relieved to have access to information related to their health care provider and feel that as recipients of their tax dollars, hospitals have an obligation to make this information public.
It remains to be seen whether or not CMS will be successful in requiring hospital survey data to become public record. Making nursing home data public has helped countless families make informed decisions about which facility they believe can provide the best care for their loved ones. We believe making hospital data public will have the same benefit for millions of patients across the country.