Journalist group launches hospital inspections database

Transparency has finally increased for healthcare journalists seeking clear, searchable information about hospital inspections. The Association of Health Care Journalists has launched, a website that allows the media access to federal hospital inspection records in the U.S. that date back to January 2011.

An announcement on the site explains that the database doesn't include results of routine inspections, or inspections from psychiatric hospitals or long-term care hospitals. It also notes that the information is yet incomplete, but the AHCJ is working with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to complete the data. On the site, a map of the U.S. allows journalists to click on hospitals by state.

For years, AHCJ has advocated for federal officials to publish the inspections electronically; previously, information only was made available to journalists if they made Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

An announcement from the group praises CMS for making information available. It also mentions a letter sent to The Joint Commission by Charles Ornstein, the president of ProPublica, representing the AHCJ, that asks for transparency similar to that of CMS. The Joint Commission, which performs complaint and routine inspections separately from CMS, is not subject to FOIA because it is a private agency; in the past, two requests for information from AHCJ to the commission have been rejected.

"Given the government's steps to increase transparency around these vital reports, we once again call on The Joint Commission to do the same," Ornstein said. "At a minimum, we ask that you and your board join us for a conversation about what steps you can take to better inform the public about problems you find at accredited hospitals. The AHCJ board cannot accept the notion that patients are best protected by keeping hospital problems secret."

In the past, AHCJ has urged other federal offices to be more transparent with the press, such as when they submitted a letter to U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding the restrictive rules that went along with the re-opening of HHS's National Practitioner Data Bank in November 2011.

To learn more:
- see the AHCJ's announcement
- visit the website
- read Ornstein's letter to The Joint Commission (.pdf)

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