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Wash. state hospitals post surgery infection data

SEATTLE — Washington state hospitals became a little more transparent today.

Thanks to a new state law, the Washington State Hospital Association is now posting hospital-by-hospital surgery infection data online, to help consumers find the best place for their surgery and to assist hospitals in improving their safety records.

For about five years, the hospital association has posted other quality reporting information, such as the average time it takes for a patient to be tested if they go to an emergency room with chest pain.

State officials say it’s the first time hospital-specific information about infections after surgery will be available to the public in Washington state. The site also lists whether a hospital follows proven infection prevention safeguards like keeping a close watch on antibiotic dosing.

“The ultimate goal is making hospital care be even safer,” said association spokeswoman Cassie Sauer. She said Washington hospitals support the new law and reporting hospital quality to the public.

A few hospitals stand out in the charts because of their high infection rates, such as Harborview Medical Center.

Carol Wagner, the association’s vice president for patient safety, said the reason for Harborview’s numbers can be traced back to the types of very ill patients treated at the state’s only level-one trauma center.

For example, the statewide average for ventilator-related infections is 0.7 infections per 100 procedures. The number for Harborview is 9.93 per 100 procedures.

Harborview and its sister hospitals in the University of Washington system have all made significant improvements in infection control, university officials said. For example, Harborview cut in half the number of ventilator-associated pneumonia cases between 2007 and 2009. The University of Washington Medical Center has some of the lowest infection rates in the state.

Harborview doesn’t have the highest infection rates in the state, however. That hospital is Samaritan Healthcare in Moses Lake, which reported ventilator-related infections of 12.99 per 100 procedures. Samaritan also had infections related to tubes inserted in veins of 5.15 cases per 100 procedures, compared with the state average of 0.76 infections per 100 procedures.

Samaritan is one of the smallest hospitals in the state that cares for people on ventilators instead of sending them to a bigger hospital, explained hospital CEO Andrew Bair.

The rate of infections listed on the hospital association’s website represents just two patients, he said. Because the hospital has only 50 beds, two infections can have a dramatic affect on hospital statistics. Harborview, in comparison, has more than 400 beds.

“We provide a high level of care here, it’s just not a high volume,” Bair said. “This is a great example for our employees here that every little thing counts. I love this era of transparency.”

Bair said the data currently posted online was for the third quarter of 2010. The hospital has had zero surgery-related infections for the quarters preceding and following those two infections, he said.

Infection rate data is posted for all the state’s hospitals for some heart surgery, knee and hip replacement and hysterectomies. The data is searchable by operation, geographic location and infection rate.

Sauer said the hospital association did its best to make sure the information is easy to access and understand.

“We hope that people will use it,” she said, adding that the association also would like to see people plan ahead when they know they are going to have a kind of surgery that allows for planning.

The association found its data shows Washington hospitals have infection rates below the national average.

“We’re delighted by that surprise,” Sauer said. “We want to keep getting better.”



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