GAO study questions validity of infection-reporting methods

Hospitals may have an incentive to under-report their healthcare-associated infections and states lack the ability to find out if the number of infections hospitals report is accurate, according to “Health-Care-Associated Infections in Hospitals, An Overview of State Reporting Programs and Individual Hospital Initiatives to Reduce Certain Infections,” a new U.S. Government Accountability Office study.

According to the report, the problem is that—as the foundation of their reporting programs—states are using a system developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for hospitals to use for their own internal measurement of healthcare-associated infections. The CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network system relies on self-reported data, which the GAO concludes, may be giving hospitals “an incentive to minimize the number of HAI cases they identify and report.”

Using these data “raises concerns about the lack of established mechanisms to check the completeness and accuracy of the data submitted by hospitals,” the study said. “Specific procedures for validating HAI data need to be developed and tested, and resources allocated to implement them.”

GAO researchers identified 23 states with mandatory public reporting, with 17 using and three considering using the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network system to collect self-reported infection data from hospitals. The report said only four states have plans to validate the accuracy of the numbers with New York making the most progress. The other states are Missouri, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. -- by Andis Robeznieks

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