Secret Hospital Safety Reports May Become Public Under CMS Proposal

Agency wants health care accreditors to reveal what they find

Under a new proposal from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the public could soon get to read confidential reports about medical errors and mishaps in the nation’s hospitals that put patients’ health and safety at risk, according to an article posted on the ProPublica website. The CMS wants private health care accreditors to publicly detail problems they find during inspections of hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as the steps being taken to fix them.

Nearly 90% of U.S. hospitals are directly overseen by health care accreditors, not by the government. Each year, the CMS takes a sample of hospitals and other health care facilities accredited by private organizations and does its own inspections to validate the work of those groups. In 2016, the agency reported that accrediting organizations often missed serious deficiencies found soon afterwards by state inspectors.

In 2014, for example, state officials examined 103 acute-care hospitals that had been reviewed by accreditors during the past 60 days. The officials found 41 serious deficiencies. Of those, 39 were missed by the accrediting organizations. This disparity “raises serious concerns regarding the [accrediting organizations’] ability to appropriately identify and cite health and safety deficiencies” during inspections, CMS officials wrote in their draft regulations, scheduled to be published on April 28.

The new proposal follows steps that the CMS took several years ago to post government inspection reports online for nursing homes and some hospitals, the article notes. ProPublica has created a tool, “Nursing Home Inspect,” to allow people to more easily search through nursing-home deficiency reports. The Association of Health Care Journalists has done the same for hospital violations.

Those government inspection reports do not identify patients or medical staff, but they do offer a description—often detailed—of what went wrong, ProPublica says. This includes medication errors, operations on the wrong patient or the wrong body part, and patient abuse.

But private accrediting organizations, the largest of which is The Joint Commission, have not followed suit, creating a patchwork of disclosures in which some inspections are public and others are not. The proposed rules from the CMS are designed to fix this.

Medical errors are a leading cause of death and injuries in U.S. hospitals. A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals; subsequent reports have said that the number is much higher.

Sources: ProPublica; April 18, 2017; and Federal Register; April 14, 2017.