Missouri restores hospital infection data

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Missouri restores hospital infection data

by Heather Mayer, DOTmed News Reporter | August 19, 2010
Disputed data now online
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services announced it will make older hospital infection records searchable on the public database. Consumer advocates expressed concern about the department updating the online database every year so older information was no longer available to the public.

"We believe it's really important to look back and see a change over time, and taking this down does eliminate that opportunity," Lisa McGiffert, who directs the Stop Hospital Infections project with Consumers Union, told DOTmed News.

A 2004 law had required the state to make available in a publicly searchable website hospital infection records. But the department had been pulling the data from the site on a rolling, 12-month basis. The data is not deleted; it is just not readily available to the public.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the story this week, having discovered the purges after it requested old infection record data last month.

But the law was reinterpreted Tuesday night, according to the department, to allow older infection data to be readily available on the site.

“The data should be up there,” department spokesman Kit Wagar told DOTmed News. “There’s no reason to be taking it down.”

The department and legal counsel decided the law could be interpreted more loosely, to allow the data to be publicly searchable for more than 12 months, Wagar said.

“We were going to have to decide, ‘well is this going to take an act of the legislature to change the law, or is there enough flexibility to interpret it differently?’” said Wagar. “We decided there’s nothing saying we can’t do this.”

Rep. Robert Schaaf (R), author of the bill and co-sponsor with former Sen. Sarah Steelman (R), said that he was against the department’s initial interpretation of the bill.

"People are still dying of infections," he told DOTmed News. "This is outrageous that they haven't got this available so people can see how the hospitals are improving."

The state's infection record sharing law, Missouri Nosocomial Infection Control Act of 2004, was held up as an important early achievement in bringing transparency to hospital-related infections. The Show-Me state was one of only a handful of states to have such laws on the books at the time it was passed.

And while the state's interactive database is useful, McGiffert said that could be one reason it's more expensive and difficult to keep the website updated. The program itself costs under a quarter million dollars a year to run, the department said. That cost includes monitoring and reacting to jumps in infection rates.

McGiffert said that health departments in many states are often underfunded and thus reluctant or unable to actively pursue infection-reporting measures.

"They have very few resources to get these things done, and they see it as sort of a chore," she said. "It's just another thing that the legislature makes them do."

Hospital-acquired infections kill around 100,000 Americans and injure an additional 2 million every year, according to the Consumers Union. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates treatment costs are upward of $45 billion each year.

What happened in Missouri will at some level be coming nationwide. Federal regulations will soon require hospitals to report infection data to the public if they want to qualify for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' "pay-for-reporting" program. The program starts next year. Consumers Union said most hospitals are members, as they qualify for higher Medicare payments if they participate.

Brendon Nafziger contributed to this report.