CMS data on hospital-acquired infections confuses consumers

Federal data on hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), intended to help consumers choose hospitals, actually confuses them, a study published in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology found.

Using written descriptions of HAI measures, study subjects correctly identified the better of two hospitals more than 7 out of 10 times, researchers found. But when given just the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) data in the tabular formats the agency publishes, the proportion of correct responses fell to 38 percent.

"Healthcare has made great strides to engage individuals to take a more active role in their care through the public reporting of data," said lead author Max Masnick, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, according to Infection Control Today. "However, presenting healthcare-acquired infection data is difficult."

Just adding the tabular data to written descriptions reduced correct answers from 72 percent to 60 percent, the researchers found.

Calling the current public HAI data inadequate, the researchers concluded more research is needed to find a better way of presenting the information to the public.

Healthcare organizations have made similar arguments. Paula Keller, M.D., director of epidemiology at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan, for example, argued last year that giving consumers access to information on HAIs doesn't mean they'll understand what it means.

Last year CMS briefly decided to stop providing data on the broader category of hospital-acquired conditions, but reversed the decision after just a few months. "It's been requested, so we will make it available," CMS spokesman Aaron Albright told USA Today at the time.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the article