Secret Hospital Inspections May Become Public at Last

It is hard to fathom that preventable hospital medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US, resulting in an estimated 444,000 yearly fatalities. (1) (For additional information, please see Michels & Lew's article, Most Common Hospital Mistakes). (2) It would seem one way to reduce deaths and injuries would be to require transparency, not secrecy, in hospital inspection reports. Unfortunately, the public presently has little access to this information.

That could all change, however. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed that results of hospital and medical facility inspections – of which almost 90% are conducted by private - not government - healthcare accreditors – be made public. Additionally, the CMS wants to know exactly what the problems are, and what is being done to correct them.

Common Hospital Errors: Surgeries on the Wrong Patient, Wrong Body Part

A significant problem private inspectors often do not see, or fail to report, dangerous deficiencies within the hospital. In contrast, CMS inspections find and offer detailed descriptions of medical and hospital errors. Examples of egregious errors include surgeries that were intended for other patients, surgeries conducted on the incorrect body part, patient abuse, medication errors and more.

Inspections by private accrediting organizations are at best scant and confusing. They provide little information to the public. The largest private hospital accrediting organization is The Joint Commission. The Healthcare Facilities Accreditation program is a smaller and lesser known agency. Sadly, the public knows little, if anything about these accreditors or specifically how they conduct their reviews.

Punitive Action Against Private Hospital Accreditors is Rare

Hospitals and healthcare facilities must meet the established Medicare Conditions of Participation minimums in order to qualify for federal funding. When problems are discovered and not resolved, the facility is at risk of losing its funding. Without funding, an institution would likely be forced to close.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities are permitted by law to hire private accrediting agencies. Of particular note of the more than 4000 hospitals and health agencies listed on the Joint Commission’s website, only a scant seven are headed to lose the top tier “gold seal of approval.” The Commission’s surprise inspections generally occur only once every 39 months unless complaints are made. Rarely is any punitive action taken against private accreditors by the government regulator, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Even though patient safety should be the only priority, accrediting agencies have long been accused of showing preference to the facilities that hire them to conduct inspections. The goal of the CMS is transparency. If the proposed changes in reporting are made, countless deaths and injuries can potentially be averted.

Michels & Lew, Los Angeles Medical Malpractice and Personal Injury Attorneys

Michels & Lew is a Los Angeles, California-based medical malpractice and personal injury law firm and can be contacted at (310) 444-1200.