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Federal Agency to Increase Hospital Scrutiny Thanks to Health Insurance Law

Ernie Shannon's picture

America’s hospitals will come under greater scrutiny concerning deadly bloodstream infections that sometimes afflict patients during prolonged hospitalization, thanks to the new health insurance law.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced recently that Hospital Compare will now include data for central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs). Hospital Compare is a popular Medicare website receiving about one million page views a month. It monitors the quality of care in more than 4,700 hospitals nationwide, according to the CMS.

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Bloodstream infections are common in hospitals, says the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and the agency estimates that more than 41,000 people suffered from the infection in 2009. The CDC reports that nearly a quarter of those with CLABSI will die in any given year. The cost of the additional care required for those with the infection can reach $17,000 per patient.

A central line or central catheter is a tube that is placed in to a patient’s large vein, usually in the neck, chest, arm or groin. The catheter is often used to draw blood or give fluids or medications. It may be left in place for several weeks. A bloodstream infection can occur when bacteria or other germs travel down a central line and enter the blood. If one develops a catheter-associated bloodstream infection one may become ill with fevers and chills or the skin around the catheter may become sore and red. For someone already battling infection or illness and in a weakened state, such an infection can prove deadly if not treated correctly.

Improving the safety of the hospital environment has become an important aspect of the early implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The Department of Health and Human Services is leading the administration’s efforts to show positive results from the new health care reform law which is controversial and faces a stiff Supreme Court hearing the end of March. Department Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the move to add bloodstream infection data to Hospital Compare builds on a program she launched last year called Partnership for Patients. The Partnership’s mission is to “reinvent American health care delivery in ways that keep patients from being injured or sickened in a health care system designed to heal them.”

Supporting those efforts, CMS officials point out that Hospital Compare contains mortality, readmission rates, as well as 10 measures that capture patient experience, 17 measures that assess patient safety, and 25 process of care measures.