Suppose a physician suggested a member of your family consider risky elective surgery that, if successful, could increase the loved one's quality of life.
Most of you would ask a lot of questions. And as healthcare managers who know about the facts of hospital life, many of you might try to find out about infection rates among surgery patients. It's the type of relevant information inquisitive consumers have a right to know if they are to make value-conscious healthcare choices.
But even in this age of consumer enlightenment in healthcare, the information is nearly impossible to obtain. The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention operates the National Nosocomial Infections Surveillance System, and federal law prohibits it from revealing hospital-specific performance.
When the system was created in 1970, the rationale for secrecy was that hospitals wouldn't participate or might fudge their statistics if the information were made public.
But those were the Dark Ages of patient information. It's high time for consumers to have access to pertinent data such as nosocomial infection rates. A good place to start is at public facilities such as state-owned University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.
In a case pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, the teaching hospital claims release of its nosocomial infection rates to a potential patient is not in the public's best interest and could jeopardize its efforts to prevent such hospital-acquired infections. To add insult to injury, the Association of Iowa Hospitals and Health Systems in a friend of the court brief said inherent differences make it all but impossible to compare hospital infection rates.
Sorry, but that tired argument won't cut it anymore. A state trial court ordered the university hospital to release the information, saying stonewalling violates the open-records law. The high court should do the same.