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39 Pennsylvania Hospitals Fined for Preventable Mistakes

February 11, 2015

A few months ago we wrote about a program called Leapfrog, whose goal is to assign letter grades to the country’s hospitals in an effort to establish their safety in a quantifiable, easily understandable way. Writing for PennLive, David Wenner reports that the Affordable Care Act included a similar measure–called the Hospital-Acquired Condition Program–and the results may be frightening for patients at some of Pennsylvania’s “most renowned” hospitals.

This program goes further than Leapfrog; it imposes financial penalties for preventable medical errors. The broad study uses government data to rate hospitals across the country on a one-to-ten scale in which a score of one is considered the safest as it relates to preventable mistakes. Those hospitals garnering a score higher than seven–of which a staggering one-quarter of the nation’s hospitals did–were fined for their performance.

Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (in Hershey) and Geisinger Medical Center (in Danville) in addition to thirty-seven other Pennsylvania hospitals face levies for their poor scores. Geisinger scored among the highest of any institutions in the state and now faces a $1.7 million penalty, to be paid with funds that will come out of a one-percent “reduction[] in revenues from Medicare,” which comprise “a huge portion of revenues at every hospital.”

After pointing out some shortcomings of the program, the chief quality officer of Geisinger notes that the publication of this list has forced hospital staff to “focus on complications” that might result in longer stays or additional hospitalizations. He also notes that Geisinger has already made major efforts in areas that the study measured, specifically catheter-related infections, one of the most rampant causes for infection in hospitals nationwide.

Other points of focus in the HACP included “central line associated bloodstream infections,” collapsed lungs, blood clots in the lungs or large veins, surgery-related open wounds, cuts or tears, broken hips from post-surgery falls, and bed sores. These are considered to be “preventable through strict adherence to hand-washing, sanitary procedures and best practices for caring for patients.”

Critics have pointed out that the study was based upon data that, at its most recent, dates back to 2013. Thus, hospitals that have made major improvements in the past year or so are being punished for past mistakes. While the program has some obvious faults, it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction as far as holding hospitals accountable for preventable errors and increasing the level of transparency that must exist between a patient and his or her caretakers. As we mentioned in a previous article last May, if consumers feel the need to read ratings and reviews of restaurants and barbershops, they should be able to seek out similar information on hospitals.

Empowering patients with data also represents an important way to reduce healthcare spending more generally: fewer patients at high-risk hospitals means fewer long-term hospitalizations, fewer preventable mistakes, and fewer preventable deaths.

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