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How the Hospital Inspections Database Came to Life

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, March 21, 2013

Though they may protest too much, I think hospitals want to see this all laid out, and if they don't, they should. True, the database is far from perfect, but as Ornstein said, "The perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good… [this is] a first step to bringing transparency to hospital inspections."

To Conroy's point, the keyword search function allows anyone to filter violations that involved certain types of violations such as "falsified" reports, equipment malfunction, fires, infections, sponges, transfusion, abuse, restraints, and so forth. That might not be a deep dive analysis, but it's something.

Ornstein, now senior reporter for ProPublica in New York City, told me it wasn't easy getting CMS to turn over these electronic files, known as "2567" statements of deficiency. "It represented a fundamental shift in how they release information. And so there was a lot of explaining and a lot of work that went into showing them why this was needed, necessary, and do-able," he said.

He adds that these deficiencies were not relatively minor, but were serious enough that CMS "set a date for Medicare termination" if they weren't fixed.
In other words, serious enough that the hospital could go broke, although most will fix their problems before that happens.

While a reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering the massive failures that closed Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center in 2007 and the Kaiser Permanente kidney transplant debacle of 2006, Ornstein realized "special reports were integral to understanding the depths of the problems at those facilities." 

He and members of the AHCJ board wanted the public to see common problems at multiple hospitals, which required getting access to a searchable database that until now, only CMS had been able to see.

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