AHCJ continues to advocate for release of hospital inspection reports

Irene M. Wielawski

About Irene M. Wielawski

Irene M. Wielawski (@wielawski), an independent journalist based in New York, is a founder and former board member of AHCJ and serves on the organization’s Right to Know Committee.

See the full comment at Regulations.gov.

AHCJ has submitted a statement to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services supporting the agency’s proposal to open hospital inspection reports to the public.

The proposed rule change applies to inspections by private accrediting organizations, which are often kept secret, even though they detail patient safety shortcomings of potential interest to the public.

AHCJ’s comment on the proposed rule continues advocacy it began in 2010 for public disclosure of this vital information.

“As the leading organization of professional journalists covering health care in the United States, AHCJ has consistently advocated for transparency so consumers can make better health care decisions,” wrote AHCJ Executive Director Len Bruzzese. “In the current health care context, with patients increasingly expected to be informed about health matters and participate in decisions about their care, it makes no sense to deprive them of information about their hospitals’ performance.”

CMS and state licensing authorities rely on private accrediting organizations, the largest of which is the Joint Commission, to make sure that hospitals meet federal standards. Yet their findings are largely kept secret from the public—with the exception of states whose health departments choose to release Joint Commission inspection reports.

CMS’s proposed rule would alleviate such state-to-state inconsistencies and also make its own policies consistent. When CMS performs a hospital inspection, it posts the results on a website. It also posts the results of nursing home inspections.

“Patients have a right to know the track record of the hospitals they’re entrusting with their lives,” said Felice J. Freyer, chair of AHCJ’s Right to Know Committee. “We applaud CMS for proposing this sensible and necessary rule, and hope that the agency won’t succumb to industry pressure to dilute it.”

Since 2010, AHCJ has been urging The Joint Commission to provide more useful information to the public. In a 2012 letter, the health care journalists’ organization requested exactly what CMS now proposes: that hospital accreditation surveys and complaint inspection reports be made public. The Joint Commission did not change its policies.

In response to CMS’s call for comment on the proposed disclosure rule, some organizations, including the American Hospital Association, have suggested that only short summaries of findings be released to the public, not the full reports.

“This strikes us as a dodge around transparency,” wrote Bruzzese.  But if CMS ends up agreeing to summaries only, he added, “We urge you to ensure that such documents explicitly detail what actually happened and the consequences. For example, if a nurse didn’t follow protocols, the summary should spell out exactly what he or she did or failed to do, how the patient was harmed as a result, and the plan of correction. If the problem was ‘medication error,’ was it the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or the wrong patient?”

The comment period has closed.  While CMS considers the responses, AHCJ members can review the inspections that are currently available – those conducted by CMS rather than the private accreditors – at www.hospitalinspections.org. AHCJ created this searchable database of CMS hospital inspections to make it easier for members to find and compare results.

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