Hospitals need national standard for infection reporting

Although surgical site infections (SSI) are "common, costly and often preventable," there is no national standard requiring hospitals to report these types of infections. What's more, states rarely coordinate SSI monitoring efforts, according to a new report from Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Only 21 states require public reporting of hospital SSI data, and only eight of those states make that information easily available. The problem is that hospitals measure infection rates using different methodologies. "Infections can happen late, after someone goes home and they can be subtle or overt - and whether or not something is deemed an infection is related to how well the hospital follows up with the patient," Martin Makary, study leader and associate professor of surgery and public health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Palm Beach Daily News.

However, the study, which was published in the Journal of Healthcare Quality, found that public reporting helps reduce their occurrence and could actually be an inexpensive way to reduce infections. For example, the study determined that deaths from coronary artery bypass surgery in New York decreased by 41 percent since the state began making SSI information public four years ago, reported the Daily News.

Armed with the SSI data, patients likely will undergo surgeries at hospitals with lower infection rates, giving hospitals with higher infection rates financial and reputational incentives to improve their infection rates, Johns Hopkins said in a statement.

Makary said grass-roots groups currently are trying to get hospitals to use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's SSI definition and monitoring recommendation. "Basically it's a 30-day period, but there are a lot of nuances," Makary said, including whether low-grade infections are "true" infections. "Sometimes we are not comparing apples to apples when one hospital is including superficial infections and others are just including deep infections," Makary said.

To learn more:
- read the study (registration required)
- see the Palm Beach Daily News article
- check out the Johns Hopkins Medicine press release