Our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, made an announcement a few weeks ago that hospitals can’t afford to ignore: she challenged hospitals to take “basic steps to fight infections that are weakening our health care system and threatening patient safety.”

As evidence, she cited the 2008 National Healthcare Quality Report which declared that hospital-acquired infections are rising, making them among the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S. and add up to $20 billion dollars to our nation’s health care costs every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says hospital infections cost as much as $45 billion annually. One in seven hospitalized Medicare patients experience one or more adverse event, such as surgery performed on the wrong body part. Based on annual patient safety measures examined by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ), the report found that patient safety is not only lacking improvement but has actually been declining every year by nearly 1% over the past six years.

When hospital-acquired infections is one of the top ten causes of death in America, said DocJess on DemConWatch, “there is something really wrong.”

The National Healthcare Quality Report gave a shout out to public reporting. “Public reporting and strong advocacy from multiple stakeholders in support of quality…may influence broad system change and subsequent quality improvement in certain areas.” We blogged earlier this year that public reporting reduces infection, as determined by a study in the Journal of American Medical Association – the study found that central line associated blood stream infections in the ICU had decreased by 50% in the past 10 years. States with public reporting laws have required more hospitals to report their rates of these blood stream infections, increasing awareness at the hospital level and compelling them to put more prevention practices in place.

Secretary Sebelius thinks hospitals can do better, and called on hospitals to reduce central line associated blood stream infections in ICUs by 75 percent over the next three years. To make sure that hospitals reduce their infection rates, we need a way to measure their progress. Public reporting allows us to collect the data that we need to hold our health care system accountable.

According to the HHS press release, the Department of Health and Human Services plans to make $50 million in grants funded by the American Recovery Act (economic stimulus package made law in February 2009) available to states to help fight hospital-acquired infections. In addition, $40 million will be available through competitive grants to states for various hospital infection prevention and reporting activities. $10 million will be made in the form of state grants to improve inspections for outpatient surgical centers.

We are encouraged by Sebelius’ acknowledgement that hospitals need to do more to protect patients, and we want our health care leaders on board with public reporting. To get their support, they need to hear from you!

Sign our petition to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius calling for public reporting of preventable medical harm. You have a right to information that could prevent you or your family from suffering through needless harm.