From the Consumer Reports Health Blog:

Soon it will be easier for you to find out how well your hospital prevents certain infections. As part of the new health care reform law, the Department of Health and Human Services will require hospitals to publicly disclose several types of dangerous hospital infections. To ensure full cooperation, the government will boost Medicare payments to hospitals that go along with the new requirements.

“After we have lost our loved ones one by one to these preventable infections you get in the hospitals, this is the beginning of Awareness that is way overdue,” said Carole Moss of California, whose son Nile Moss died from a MRSA infection in 2006. Afterwards, Carole became a tireless advocate for hospital infection awareness and formed Nile’s Project.

Here is the breakdown of the new HHS regulations that go into effect beginning next year:

Starting in January of 2011, hospitals will report on central-line bloodstream infections in intensive care and neonatal units. Central-line infections are responsible for about 30 percent of the approximately 99,000 infection-related deaths each year, and as we reported in a recent investigation, they are almost entirely preventable. In 2012, hospitals will also have to report on surgical site infections—infections that occur during or after an operation. Reporting is likely to expand after that. All of the data will be available on the federal website, Hospital Compare (Consumer Reports Health Blog).

Hospitals will have another incentive to begin public reporting. During the first year of public reporting, Medicare payments will be tied to hospitals for reporting infection rates, but following that first year, the payments will be tied to meeting a certain standard for infection rates.

“Paying hospitals for hospital infection reporting feels like paying your kids for actually bringing their report cards home,” said Kerry O’Connell, patient safety advocate from Colorado.

The Safe Patient Project believes that mandatory public reporting will put pressure on hospitals to work harder to improve prevention efforts and ultimately save countless lives and dollars. Julia Hallisy from California and Co-Founder of the Empowered Patient Coalition said, “All efforts to reduce hospital infections have been hindered by the lack of mandated reporting. The adage ‘You can’t improve what you don’t measure’ will no longer apply and will not stand in the way of meaningful progress in the challenge of hospital infections.”

Other patient safety advocates voiced concern that these regulations, while an important first step, are just the beginning of what hospitals should report in order to be held accountable for harming patients. “These new, long awaited regulations are a step in the right direction in addressing the harm and hefty costs that patients are incurring from these infections,” said Lori Nerbonne of NH Patient Voices. “It is unfortunate, however, that patients/consumers will not have access to more than just the rate of central-line associated bloodstream infections in the ICU in 2011 since the majority of infections occur outside of the ICU setting.” (In June we asked the HHS to also recommend public reporting of MRSA, C.difficile and urinary tract infections, as well as ventilator associated pneumonia.)

Kevin Kavanagh (Kentucky) of Health Watch USA had another suggestion for HHS: “All hospitals should have to follow these [hospital infection reporting] regulations.”

Still, the HHS reporting requirements for central line bloodstream infections and surgical site infections signify that public reporting of hospital infections is becoming a nationwide standard. It all started in the states, when Consumers Union teamed up with individuals like Carole, Lori and Kerry, who stood in front of legislators and shared their personal stories of pain and loss due to hospital acquired infections, until public disclosure laws were passed in twenty-seven states. These new regulations are added testament to our hard-earned victories in the states. We’ll be keeping a close eye on how these public reporting requirements are carried out and what data is reported so that people in all states will finally be given access to “part of the truth” as Carole told us.