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Secret hospital inspections may soon become public

By Charles Ornstein, ProPublica

This story was co-published with NPR’s Shots blog.

The public could soon get a look at confidential reports about errors, mishaps and mix-ups in the nation’s hospitals that put patients’ health and safety at risk, under a groundbreaking proposal from federal health officials.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to require that private health care accreditors publicly detail problems they find during inspections of hospitals and other medical facilities, as well as the steps being taken to fix them. Nearly nine in 10 hospitals are directly overseen by those accreditors, not the government.

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There’s increasing concern among regulators that private accreditors aren’t picking up on serious problems at health facilities. Every year, CMS takes a sample of hospitals and other health care facilities accredited by private organizations and does its own inspections to validate the work of the groups. In a 2016 report, CMS noted that its review found that accrediting organizations often missed serious deficiencies found soon after by state inspectors.

In 2014, for instance, state officials examined 103 acute-care hospitals that had been reviewed by an accreditor in the past 60 days. The state officials found 41 serious deficiencies. Of those, 39 were missed by the accrediting organizations. This disparity “raises serious concerns regarding the [accrediting organizations’] ability to appropriately identify and cite health and safety deficiencies” during inspections, CMS officials wrote when they released draft regulations including the proposed change on Friday.

The move follows steps CMS took several years ago to post government inspection reports online for nursing homes and some hospitals. ProPublica has created a tool, Nursing Home Inspect, to allow people to more easily search through the nursing home deficiency reports; the Association of Health Care Journalists has done the same for hospital violations.

Those government inspection reports do not identify patients or medical staff, but they do offer a description—often detailed—of what went wrong. This includes medication errors, operations on the wrong patient or the wrong body part, and patient abuse.
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