Quality Control at Washington State Hospitals Becomes More Transparent


April 14, 2011

In an effort to promote greater transparency and allow health care consumers more information to make informed choices about where they receive care, Washington legislators recently passed a law requiring hospitals to post patient infection rates online.  According to MyNorthwest.com (click to view), this is the first time such information has been made available to the public.  This measure expands the scope of quality assurance information reported by hospitals statewide and includes data on which hospitals adhere to proven infection prevention safeguards.   A comparison of the infection rates and other important quality measures among hospitals throughout the state can be found at: http://www.wsha.org/hospitalquality.cfm.

While the purpose of this measure is to assist “consumers in making good decisions about hospital care,” it may not go far enough.  According to a recent Seattle Times article (click to view), the infection rates published by state-wide hospitals may not be as reliable to evaluate patient safety as the new law’s sponsored had hoped.  This is largely due to the methods hospital administrators and quality assurance personal use to collect and report the data on infection rates.  For example, studies have identified “significant discrepancies” in the incidence of central-line infections as reported by hospitals, and the rate of similar infections found by an independent audit of the hospital’s infection data.  These studies suggest the publication of hospital-specific infection rates may be biased and self-serving, rather than concerned with consumer protection.

In a somewhat related matter, a recent University of Washington study revealed alarmingly high rates of MRSA contamination (a drug-resistant strain of staph infection) among Snohomish County firefighters and paramedics.  Not only were these first responders found to be carrying the potentially deadly bacteria on their persons and clothing, but it was also found in the aid cars where patients ride, as well as the kitchens and living quarters of fire houses.  According to a King5.com report (click to view), the Snohomish County Fire District has enacted several new measures to reduce the risk of contamination to employees and the public.