New Database Reveals Thousands of Hospital Violation Reports

By: - March 19, 2013 12:00 am

Hospitalsmake mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes.  A patient may get the wrong medication or evenundergo surgery intended for another person. When errors like these are reported, state and federal officials inspectthe hospital in question and file a detailed report.

Now, for thefirst time, this vital information on the quality and safety of the nation’shospitals has been made available to the public online.

A newwebsite,, includes detailed reports ofhospital violations dating back to January 2011, searchable by city, state,name of the hospital and key word.  Previously,these reports were filed with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), and released only through a Freedom ofInformation Act request, an arduous, time-consuming process.  Even then, the reports were provided in paperformat only, making them cumbersome to analyze.

Release ofthis critical electronic information by CMS is the result of years of advocacyby the Association of Health CareJournalists, withfunding from the Ethics and Excellence in JournalismFoundation.  The new database makes full inspectionreports for acute care hospitals and rural critical access hospitals instantlyavailable to journalists and consumers interested in the quality of their localhospitals. 

The databasealso reveals national trends in hospital errors. For example, key word searchesyield the incidence of certain violations across all hospitals.  A search on the word “abuse,” for example, yields862 violations at 204 hospitals since 2011. 

Once theyreceive a complaint, federal and state inspectors attempt to discover the causeof a hospital error or violation. For example, poor safety procedures result inthousands of patients slipping and falling each year in U.S. hospitals, and poorsterilization methods cause thousands more to contract infections. Pooradministrative procedures can result in patients receiving wrong treatments.   

Once thecauses of specific problems are determined, federal and state authorities requirehospitals to file a plan to correct them. These plans still remain under wraps, as do inspection reports onpsychiatric hospitals and long-term care hospitals.

Alsounavailable are the results of complaint-based and routine inspections by thenation’s largest private hospital accreditation organization, The Joint Commission.  Because the commissionis a private entity, it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  For this reason, the health care journalismassociation has launched a new effort to gain the release of these reports onhospital quality and safety.

The commission has rejected two previous requestsby the journalism group saying disclosure of the information would hamper itsefforts to improve hospital quality.

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Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.