Hospital inspection reports one key to writing about quality of care #ahcj13

For journalists wanting to learn more about how to track hospital quality through inspection reports, Charles Ornstein, a senior reporter at ProPublica, and Paul Dreyer, a former senior regulator with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health who now consults with hospitals, gave a presentation at Health Journalism 2013 about how reporters can get that information.

As an example, Ornstein reminded attendees that actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn children had received an overdose of Heparin at a hospital. The Quaids felt the hospital had tried to cover up the incident, but an inspection report uncovered the truth about what had happened.

“It’s a lesson to hospitals to be honest with families,” Ornstein said. “And journalists are the conduit for that.”

To get specific incident reports, journalists should request CMS Form 2567 – a “statement of deficiencies and plan of correction” – from their regional CMS office, Ornstein and Dreyer said.

There are rules about how long after a survey they have to be released. CMS surveys should be publicly available no later than 90 days after a survey or within 60 days of receipt by a provider, Dreyer said. For nursing homes, it’s within 14 days of the survey.

The advantages to using those reports are that they are publicly available and tell a story, Dreyer said. But they can be episodic and not give quantitative or comparative information for systemwide issues unless reporters dig deeper. Ornstein suggested that reporters also request past reports to see if the hospital has a history of particular issues.

In cases where hospitals use HIPAA as an excuse to not speak about a particular incident, Ornstein encouraged reporters to have the patient or guardian sign a HIPAA release form. Even though the hospital is still not likely to speak, it at least takes away HIPAA as an excuse, he said.

Ornstein encouraged reporters to check out the AHCJ’s new website,, which will be updated quarterly with hospital inspections across the country.

Dreyer said that many hospitals prefer to have expensive accreditation by The Joint Commission. That organization’s inspection reports are not public.

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