Hospital error rates may hide mistakes

Hospital medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States, but an environment of secrecy often keeps the public from learning the details, according to an article published by the Orange County Register.

Last fall, an outbreak of infections linked with orthopedic surgeries temporarily shut down all 14 operating rooms at Orange County, California's Mission Hospital, but the federal government concealed the full inspection report until this May, a year after the initial illnesses that would lead to the shutdown six months later, the publication reported.

Hospitals are required by law to report their infection rates, but figures alone don't tell the full story in many cases. At Mission, the full report reveals an insect got into the operating room on at least two occasions, and a Register review of inspection reports for five major Orange County hospitals found issues such as lack of hand-hygiene compliance, rusty procedure tables and improper sterilization of surgical tools.

However, a hospital could receive citations for multiple violations but still appear as good as or better than the national average based solely on public infection rates, the newspaper reported. Full inspection reports are only available through a Public Records Act request, which are released once the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approve the provider in question's strategy for fixing the problem.

With increased transparency, patients could know what to look for and in some cases help their providers, according to Douglas Merrill, M.D., chief medical officer at UCI Medical Center, insisting their doctor take steps such as hand-hygiene compliance where necessary.

"Doctors are human beings; we will make mistakes," he told the Register. "We shouldn't be dependent on the patient, but they do have a unique interest in us doing our jobs."

Providers' lack of transparency often keeps victims of medical malpractice out of the loop, such as the case of a Cleveland man who was not told medical gauze was left in his stomach after a dental procedure despite it appearing on his medical records, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article