“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…”
– Louis Brandeis
The CDC estimates that there are approximately 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections each year, resulting in almost 100,000 wrongful deaths.
According to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), the most dangerous hospital-acquired infection is MRSA, a superbug that has become resistant to antibiotics. Hospital infections that are closely behind are vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and Clostridium Dificil (C-Diff).
In many states, health officials require hospitals to disclose information regarding infectious outbreaks. While some willingly comply, there is no incentive for hospitals to report because in most cases there are no regulatory or financial penalties for hospitals that don’t release such vital information.
There have been cases when records of infections have been released months or even years after known outbreaks, preventing patients from making informed decisions about which hospitals they choose to trust for their care.
Advocates for easily accessible infection information believe that when hospitals do not release outbreak information, they cannot truly improve the quality of care they provide to patients.
Often, lethal outbreaks have only been disclosed in public medical journals written by the doctors who treated infected patients. Concealing vital information which should be publicly disclosed places countless lives in danger.
As of October 2011, state legislation on healthcare-associated infections included 30 states that had laws requiring infectious diseases to be reported publicly. Five states, including Arizona, still give hospitals the option to voluntarily disclose infectious outbreaks or non-publicly report them to the Division of Health of the State Department of Health and Human Services. The remainder of the states have pending healthcare-associated infection legislations or no laws at all on reporting infectious outbreak information.
What is it going to take to end the silence?
States need to take immediate action to force hospitals to publicly disclose vital information about infection rates to patients. Reporting requirements should be amended to include strict regulatory and financial penalties for non-compliance.
The most vulnerable populations–the young, the elderly, and those with delicate immune systems–are the ones at most risk to contract an infection in a hospital. Through appropriate penalty-based reporting systems, hospitals can be held accountable and hopefully incentivized to take proactive steps to curtail hospital-acquired infection rates.