In a closely watched case testing a patient's right to hospital-specific clinical outcomes data, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled last week that state-owned University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics in Iowa City is not required to release its nosocomial infection rates to a potential patient.
Nosocomial infections are acquired during a patient's hospital stay, indicating the bacteria is present in the facility. Hospitals routinely track such infections in an effort to avert them later.
The state Supreme Court ruling, filed June 18, overturns the 1996 decision of Johnson County District Court in Iowa City. The state trial court had issued a summary judgment ordering 822-bed University of Iowa Hospital to release an overview of its nosocomial infection rates to Karen Burton of Iowa City.
Burton, a 52-year-old retiree, requested the data in 1994 when she was considering elective ear surgery. After her request was rejected, she filed suit, arguing the data should be publicly available under the Iowa open-records law, which applies to state agencies.
The hospital contended that state law gave it discretion in the matter. Publicly releasing data on its nosocomial infections would inhibit its efforts to collect such information in the future, it argued.
In its opinion, the state Supreme Court agreed. It wrote: "Requiring disclosure would frustrate the very purpose for collecting nosocomial information: to reduce morbidity or mortality. Public disclosure of nosocomial infection data would have a chilling effect on voluntary reporting by physicians and hospital staff of such infections."
Burton has said she believes such data are basic risk information. And she argued it's absurd for providers to ask patients to be good healthcare consumers while denying them information needed to make appropriate choices (May 26, p. 30).
The Association of Iowa Hospitals and Health Systems supported the hospital in the case, agreeing that releasing such information wouldn't be in the public's best interest.
As of late last week, Burton said she hadn't read the state Supreme Court decision but said she didn't expect to carry the case further.
However, she said she will consider organizing a public campaign to get consumers more information about nosocomial infections. She runs a World Wide Web site with links to medical research on the issue.