U.S. Government Agency Takes Down Spreadsheet Detailing Hospital Errors

Venezuela flagAs part of a controversial decision, the U.S. government decided to remove public access to a list of avoidable errors, called HACs (“hospital acquired conditions”), which previously had been accessible online to the general public. Errors on the list included surgeons leaving a foreign object in a patient’s body during surgery, the wrong blood type being given to patients, and other serious accidents which could have easily been prevented and which could have been life-threatening.

The list had been available on the website of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the Hospital Comparison page, and patients considering their treatment options had been able to access the list before deciding to receive treatment at that particular facility. It is reported that eight HACs were removed from the website in 2013, but that the spreadsheet was still available to researchers and patient advocates who wished to see it. Now, however, reports suggest that the spreadsheet is no longer available at all.

The Hospital Comparison webpage now provides significantly less information about preventable conditions, but according to a spokesperson for the organization, the information provided is that which is “most relevant” to researchers and patients. It’s noted that the occurrence of HACs is relatively low, but when a patient’s health is concerned, even the smallest mistakes can be life threatening. Studies have shown that foreign objects are left inside patients’ bodies during surgery about 39 times per week, that surgeons perform the wrong procedure on patients around 20 per week, and that surgeons operate on the wrong patient an additional 20 times per week. It’s difficult to see that these numbers are actually quite low, considering that thousands of surgeries are performed successfully each week, but critics note thatany number of mistakes above zero is too many.

Although it’s still unknown whether the decision to withhold HAC information will be upheld, industry experts have expressed concern over the decision, and a representative for the American Hospital Association has noted that hospital mistake statistics should be available and reliable for anyone wishing to access the information. Choosing to withhold certain details does not provide an accurate assessment of the facility, according to the representative, and does not actually benefit the general public at all. One thing is certain: when patients’ lives are at risk, consumers believe that hospitals and medical facilities would do well to educate everyone involved so that mistakes can be avoided as often as possible.