Millions of preventable infections occur at U.S. hospitals every year, and hundreds of thousands of patients needlessly die or become severely diseased from them. And up until now, hospitals have not been required to disclose this information to the public. But a new government initiative that threatens to pull a portion of Medicare funding if hospitals fail to start reporting this crucial information will have most of them in compliance beginning January 1, 2011, according to a recent report.
Hospital-related infections are the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., according to government figures. Many patients admitted to hospitals for routine surgeries or other procedures end up contracting infections from dirty equipment or from hospital staff that failed to maintain proper hygiene. Roughly 250,000 serious infections are caused by catheters every year, for instance, and 31,000 of those result in death.
To help combat the problem, the federal government has set up a new reporting system designed to keep tabs on hospital performance and let the public evaluate which hospitals have the best safety records. And if hospitals fail to comply, they will lose two percent of their Medicare funding starting in 2013, a threat that officials say will hopefully ensure near total compliance.
Beginning in 2012, hospitals will also have to start reporting on the number of infections caused by surgeries, which reports say clock in at 290,000 a year. And 8,200 of these infections end up being fatal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about two million patients a year contract infections while receiving medical care. And these same patients spend about $6.5 billion extra to treat such infections. By shining a light on this dirty reality, the hope is that hospitals will get their act together or face intense public scrutiny and a loss of funds.