National Database Needed for HAI Tracking

Janice Simmons, July 15, 2010

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services last week expanded its popular Hospital Compare website to include outpatient data related to areas such as hospital 30 day mortality rates and 30-day readmission rates for patients with heart failure, heart attacks, and pneumonia. But one critical health issue is still missing from the national database: the rate of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) occurring in hospitals.

That's certainly not to say CMS is ignoring the issue. Since 2008, CMS said it would no longer make additional Medicare payments related to certain HAIs obtained in the hospital such as catheter associated urinary tract infections or vascular catheter associated infections.

And, under the healthcare reform legislation approved earlier this year, Hospital Compare—beginning in October 2014—will finally report hospitals' records for several infections covered by Medicare's policy of nonpayment for hospital acquired conditions.

The Department of Health and Human Services also has moved forward with a five-year action plan to tackle HAIs. But it just may not be enough, some consumer groups are saying. These organizations are urging HHS and CMS to go further and adopt proposed regulations that will require all hospitals to disclose how many patients develop certain infections during treatment.

"The goals in this action plan are extremely conservative. When we commented on the action plan, we said that [they] needed to have higher goals," says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project in Austin, TX. McGiffert helped author a letter on behalf of consumer groups to CMS responding to the plan and pending legislation on reimbursement issues.

"Our feeling was that if this was where we were going to be five years from now, we're in trouble. We need to be much further along," McGiffert says. And it can be done. "We're seeing great progress in hospitals that have implemented the bundles of prevention activities. Some of them are getting their infections down to zero and keeping that over a long period of time."

Janice Simmons Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at
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