The Association of Health Care Journalists has launched a searchable, online database that compiles thousands of federal inspection reports for U.S. hospitals since January 2011, HealthLeaders Media reports.
The documents -- called 2567s -- were released by CMS after a long-standing request from AHCJ. Previously, the documents were available only if individuals or the press filed a Freedom of Information Act or state public records request.
AHCJ then organized the files and posted them online.
The publicly accessible database includes the results of government investigations into complaints about acute-care and rural hospitals.
It allows users to search by keywords or phrases to:
- Find which hospitals had incidents severe enough to warrant federal investigations;
- Determine how often errors of a particular type occurred; and
- Learn whether a patient death was involved.
The website does not include:
- The results of complaint investigations into psychiatric hospitals or long-term care facilities;
- Routine inspection reports; or
- Hospitals' correction plans, which are required to continue receiving federal reimbursement.
AHCJ President Charles Ornstein -- a senior reporter at ProPublica -- said AHCJ wanted to make it easy for the public to access documents that "show deception, fraud, falsification and medical errors that are inexcusable."
Kathryn Ceja -- a CMS spokesperson -- said that the information was released because the federal government wants to "promote an informed citizenry, patient engagement in health care, quality improvement on the part of providers and transparency in government."
However, Nancy Foster -- quality and patient safety vice president of the American Hospital Association -- downplayed the value of public access to the documents, noting that the "public has not found the data as useful as we anticipated." She added that "it is hard even for a seasoned health care policymaker to understand" the documents.
AHCJ Letter to Joint Commission
In related news, AHCJ on March 13 submitted a letter to the Joint Commission -- the largest private accreditor of hospitals -- asking it to make its hospital inspection information public for similar purposes.
The Joint Commission has denied prior requests, noting that such disclosure "would compromise ... efforts to improve hospital quality."
In the letter, Ornstein wrote, "The AHCJ board cannot accept the notion that patients are best protected by keeping hospital problems secret." He added, "Such reasoning also flies in the face of growing consensus among health care leaders and policymakers about the importance of transparency to improve medical care quality" (Clark, HealthLeaders Media, 3/18).