Hospital Compare, a federal website aimed at helping patients make more informed choices about where to seek treatment, no longer reports on catastrophic medical errors at the facilities it monitors.
So what sorts of mistakes qualify as "hospital acquired conditions," which were wiped from the consumer website last summer, and as of this month also disappeared from the data sets used by researchers? The list includes cases of surgeons leaving sponges in their patient's abdomens, air embolisms (deadly gas bubbles in the blood stream), and transfusions with the wrong blood type. In agreeing to conceal the information, the Obama administration is bending to the will of the American Hospital Association, the industry's lobbying arm.
David Goldhill, author of the terrific 2013 book Catastrophic Care: How American Health Care Killed My Father–and How We Can Fix It, recently wrote about the data cover up for Time:
Is it somehow unfair that the public knows that one airline – Malaysia Air – flew two of the planes in our most recent commercial aviation tragedies? After all, the exact cause of either catastrophe isn't yet known, and it's not clear that Malaysia Air was at fault in either. The airline flies roughly 91,000 flights per year safely; no Malaysian Air flight had been involved in a fatal accident since 1995. Is it really fair to name the airline?
Of course. And yet,
In health care, we still believe that hospitals can kill patients as a result of errors and retain rights to confidentiality. That may help explain why the airline industry grows safer every year, and estimates of deaths from medical errors are now so high they would rank as the third-leading cause of death in America behind only cancer and heart disease.
Give Hospital Compare a whirl. I found the site to be utterly useless in evaluating whether I'd want to be treated at a particular hospital, which isn't much of a surprise given that the federal agency in charge of the site was also responsible for HealthCare.gov.
Certainly the government shouldn't be in the hospital review business, but as David Goldhill pointed out in a recent Reason TV interview conducted by Kmele Foster, the underlying cause of hospital errors is our third-party payer system—patients don't act like discerning consumers because they're not directly on the hook for the cost of their own care.
Watch the interview: