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The feds want to hide hospital safety scores during COVID, making it harder to evaluate yours

Tom Avril, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Health & Fitness

PHILADELPHIA — The last time Medicare rated hospitals on surgical complications such as bed sores, collapsed lungs, bloodstream infections, and broken hips, four Philadelphia-area facilities scored worse than average.

But under a new proposal from the agency, there's no way for the public to tell if these hospitals, and 145 others around the country, have gotten any better.

The reason? COVID-19.

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services contends the rates of surgical complications were skewed by the unprecedented challenges of treating patients in the pandemic. The agency previously hid the data from public view for the first half of 2020, and it proposes to keep doing that through mid-2021. For now, hospitals also would not have to pay penalties that are ordinarily based on these measures and on the rates of five hospital-acquired infections — costing Medicare an estimated $350 million.

Patient safety advocates say the proposal would make it harder to evaluate hospital quality during the very period health care was in greatest demand. In fact, research suggests hospital safety suffered as institutions faced immense strain for much of 2020 and 2021.

But the solution is not to hide the results from public view, said Leah Binder, president and chief executive officer of the Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit that uses these data and others to evaluate hospital safety.

 

"Consumers deserve to know exactly what happened and where during the pandemic," she said. "We're outraged at the possibility that we would go backward on transparency."

How Philly hospitals scored

Medicare would still collect each hospital's raw numbers of "potentially preventable" complications after surgery. But for now, the agency would not publish the numbers nor use them to create composite patient-safety scores for each hospital.

The last time that happened, for the 18-month period ending Dec. 31, 2019, the area hospitals with worse-than-average composite scores were: Nazareth Hospital and Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia; St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne; and Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood. The scores are published on Medicare's Care Compare website, at www.medicare.gov/care-compare.

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