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Health Care / HEALTH CARE

Hospital Infection Rates Now on Medicare Website

Dr. Michael Vish does an ultrasound on a newborn baby looking for vessels for a central line to be inserted at the Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children in Fairfax Va. This unit has greatly reduced central line infections among patients.(Chet Susslin)

Patients concerned about their risk of getting sick during a hospital stay can now compare the rates of patients getting one deadly type of infection online.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has published the infection rates on its Hospital Compare website, where the government already publishes data about patient satisfaction and some other types of medical errors in order to help consumers choose quality hospitals.

The type of infection being tracked by CMS is central-line-associated infections, or CLABSIs, among patients in intensive care units. Central lines are catheters inserted deep into the body to deliver medicines and nutrition. Next year, the government will be publishing the rates of infections patients get during surgery and urinary-tract infections from hospital-inserted catheters. 

 

Hospital-acquired infections are a leading cause of death in this country, with estimates of the death toll nearing 100,000 lives a year—more than that of car crashes, breast cancer, or AIDS. (Read our feature on the issue here.)

The Medicare site allows consumers to compare three hospitals at a time against a national benchmark for infection rates and the average for state hospitals. The numbers have been adjusted to account for differences between the health of patients in different hospitals. But several hospitals that serve the sickest patients have been able to achieve infection rates of zero for several years, said Lisa McGiffert of Consumers Union, which has pushed for state laws requiring the reporting of similar data. Currently, 29 states and the District of Columbia are collecting infection rates. “We would encourage people to think of the real benchmark as zero,” she said.

Currently, the Medicare site includes only three months' worth of data, but it will be updated quarterly and will eventually show infection rates for a full year.

One bright spot in the infection universe: Hospitals have shown significant progress in reducing the type of infection measured by the Medicare site. According to the CDC, the rate of CLABSIs in intensive-care patients has gone down by 58 percent since 2001.

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