A web page launched Tuesday by the Washington State Hospital Association displays surgical infection rates for all the hospitals in the state, marking the first time hospitals here have opened themselves up to such scrutiny.
With a click of the mouse, consumers can quickly compare infection rates for heart bypass surgeries, heart transplants, knee and hip replacements and hysterectomies.
The public display of the infection data was not voluntary: the Legislature passed a law requiring it. Now that the site is up and running, however, hospital representatives say they are behind it 100 percent.
“It’s good for consumers and it’s good for hospitals,” said Cassie Sauer, vice president for public affairs at the hospital association. “Everyone’s goal is the same here: zero infections.”
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Hospital infections are among the leading causes of death nationwide, and drawing public attention to them was the intent of legislators when they required the public reporting in 2007.
Hospitals were allowed to phase the results in gradually. Reporting on central-line bloodstream infections began in 2008. Ventilator-associated pneumonia reporting started last year.
This year, hospitals began reporting data on infections related to specific surgeries.
The new data revealed Tuesday contain no shocking revelations and out no particularly poor hospitals. Most of the rates are within one percentage point or less.
Even those minor differences are significant to hospitals, however, particularly those in highly competitive situations.
In Pierce County, where the Franciscan and MultiCare health systems are fiercely competitive, hospital representatives nervously eyed the pages, worrying about how minor differences might be interpreted by the public.
“I like the concept of having the site and giving the public the information they want,” said Marion Ray, director of infection prevention and control and employee health for the regional Franciscan system.
“I do think, though, that the site is confusing,” she said. “It doesn’t always compare like to like, and that is going to be confusing to people.”
Ray pointed out that the data collection system makes no allowance for relative risk. Hospitals whose clients are routinely sicker or older are likely to have higher infection rates, she said.
Also, Ray said, the number of infections discovered depends in part on how hard hospitals look for them and how well they recognize them when they occur.
“The data is only as good as the surveillance,” she said.
That relative risk discrepancy should go away in three years or less, according to state Department of Health spokesman Don Moyer.
Hospitals here are struggling to get their computer systems meshed with a national data collection system managed by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Moyer said, and that system factors in relative risk.
“The goal is to continue making progress, while waiting for the computer systems to speak the same language, to provide this information that the public should have,” Moyer said.