Database provides an easier way to learn about hospital violations

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 26, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A new online database has been added to the mix of healthcare information resources, giving the public easier access to federal reports about investigations into complaints about hospitals.

The reports are public records, but getting them used to require a time-consuming Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The agency keeps hospital profiles online at medicare.gov, but they're limited to such categories as average times for treating certain conditions, readmissions and patient survey results.

The new database at www.hospitalinspections.org has compiled reports from the CMS starting in January 2011. It's run by the Association of Health Care Journalists, with funding from the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation. The information is searchable by state and hospital, but it's also limited.

It has the results of federal inspections done following complaints but doesn't include the hospitals' responses. It also doesn't include routine inspections by state agencies. A dozen states put those documents online; Texas isn't one of them.

There are 162 reports for Texas hospitals on the new site at this point.

Among them are two for John Peter Smith Hospital, Tarrant County's main public facility in a network with more than 1 million patient visits annually.

A June 20 report found that nursing staff didn't properly handle three patients who came to the emergency room with symptoms of heart problems and that some nursing shifts weren't adequately staffed. A June 9, 2011, report documented three violations related to the treatment of blisters on a nursing home patient with a brain injury who was brought to the ER.

In an email to the Star-Telegram Editorial Board, a hospital spokeswoman said the reports had led to corrections, including more nurse recruiting, better communication with families and improved leader accountability.

Texas Health Harris Methodist Hurst-Euless-Bedford had four reports listed, including one from March 21, 2012, that documented violations centered on a blood samples sent for lab testing but labeled with the wrong patient's name. The report said the hospital had 239 incidents of specimen labeling errors within a 14-month period.

A Harris spokesman said in an email that the hospital took immediate steps to fix the problem and that CMS last week said the correction plans were acceptable.

Making the data more readily available can help with informed decision-making. Healthcare is a service, but it's also a business, and patients should be educated consumers.

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