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Salt Lake City, Utah

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Bret Hanna
Bret Hanna
Attorney • 435-649-2525

Patient Consumers Deserve to Know

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One requirement of the Affordable Care Act aka "Obamacare," is that since July 2011 Utah hospitals have to report "provider-preventable conditions" to the Utah Department of Health. Such events can include the following:

  • Surgery on the wrong body part
  • Surgery on the wrong patient
  • In hospital falls and injuries
  • Vascular catheter infections
  • Air bubbles trapped in blood vessels
  • Sponges and surgical equipment left inside a patient after surgery
  • Blood clot inside a vessel or lungs following a total hip or knee replacement
  • Surgical site infections following weight loss surgery, orthopedic surgeries or heart bypass surgeries
  • Life-threatening complications arising from failure to control diabetic patients' blood sugar
  • Wrong blood type given during transfusions

The problem for Utah patient consumers is that reporting by hospitals is hit-or-miss at best ,but even more problematic is the confidentiality offered to those hospitals that do report. In other words, Utah patient consumers have no way to evaluate the services offered by hospitals they would like to patronize.

The executive director of the Utah Hospital Association has stated that the new data collection process is a "work-in-progress kind of thing." The reason? "We had to agree upon which events to report, and how to define them. We need to have a baseline before releasing information showing what progress is being made, or not being made, at various facilities." Really? Why? And isn't that putting the fox in charge of the hen house? Moreover, the penalties for not reporting are not severe; if caught, facilities who provide care for Medicaid or Medicare patients may no longer be paid for treating those patients.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospital-acquired infections alone kill 90,000 people in the U.S. every year. That is the equivalent of a fully loaded jetliner going down and killing everyone aboard every week. How is that acceptable?

Utah hospitals have made strides in reporting so-called "sentinel events;" medical errors that result in unexpected death or serious physical or psychological injury. That's a step in the right direction, but patient consumers are entitled to understand the risks associated with a hospital stay even if the risk of death or serious injury resulting from a medical error is lower than at a competitor hospital. Utah patient consumers deserve better.