About AHCJ: General News

AHCJ unveils hospitalinspections.org Date: 03/15/13

BOSTON – The Association of Health Care Journalists today launched hospitalinspections.org, a free, searchable news application that compiles thousands of federal inspection reports for hospitals around the nation since January 2011.

The move follows years of advocacy by AHCJ urging the government to release the deficiency reports in an electronic format. Until now, reporters and the public had to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to obtain the documents, a process fraught with delays that can stymie timely public knowledge of problems at hospitals.

AHCJ’s board of directors praised CMS for making the information available and working collaboratively with AHCJ to bring greater transparency to this important information.

“Being able to easily review the performance of your local hospital is vital for health care journalists and for the public,” said AHCJ President Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica in New York.

Also this week, AHCJ sent a letter urging The Joint Commission, the largest private accreditor of hospitals, to likewise make public information from its inspections of hospitals. The Joint Commission does complaint and routine inspections separately from CMS, but as a private agency it is not subject to FOIA. As a result, thousands of hospital inspection reports still remain under wraps. The commission has rejected two previous AHCJ requests for this information, saying disclosure would compromise its efforts to improve hospital quality.

“The AHCJ board cannot accept the notion that patients are best protected by keeping hospital problems secret,” Ornstein wrote to commission president Dr. Mark Chassin. “Such reasoning also flies in the face of growing consensus among health care leaders and policy makers about the importance of transparency to improve medical care quality.”

The new hospitalinspections.org website includes the results of government inspections of acute-care hospitals and critical-access (rural) hospitals resulting from complaints. It does not include reports of deficiencies found at psychiatric hospitals or long-term care hospitals, nor does it include the results of  routine hospital inspections.

The inspection reports have been configured by AHCJ to be easily searchable by keyword, city, state and hospital name. The website is open to anyone but only AHCJ members have access to additional resources to help users understand what is being reported and what is not. These caveats are important for putting the information into context.

For example, the government has not released the plans of correction submitted by hospitals, which outline steps they will take to fix problems listed in the inspection reports. The plans still must be requested directly from the hospitals or from CMS.

Additionally, some state health departments and CMS regional offices have lagged in uploading deficiency reports to the agency’s main database. CMS has identified the hospitals with missing reports, and they are labeled as such on the hospitalinspections.org website. CMS has committed to working with its regional offices and state counterparts to speed the uploading of inspection reports so that the public has access to this important information.

Funding for the hospitalinspections.org project was provided by the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

The Association of Health Care Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing public understanding of health care issues. Its mission is to improve the quality, accuracy and visibility of health care reporting, writing and editing. The association has more than 1,400 members.