Can New York Hospitals Be Shamed Into Preventing Hospital Medical Malpractice?

The Syracuse Post Standard reports today that the “central line” blood stream infection rate at the surgical intensive care unit of Upstate University Hospital fell to zero last year only a year after it had one of the highest infection rates in the State (8.3%). A “central line” is a tube or catheter inserted in a vein to draw blood or deliver fluids and medications to a patient. Infection can occur when bacteria travel down the tube or catheter and enter the blood stream.

The cause of the decline in the infections? The Hospital initiated an infection prevention program. The new program consisted of a checklist of steps aimed at avoiding infections, ultrasound machines to help place catheters more accurately, and a computer software program that reported daily on infections and their sources.

What spurred Upstate into initiating the aggressive infection prevention program? Its embarrassingly high infection rate in 2008, one of the worst in the State!

Shame is a great motivator. And before 2005 there was no shame. That was the year New York State implemented a new law requiring the Health Department to publicly disclose all New York hospitals’ infection rates. Since then, infection rates around the State have dropped dramatically. No one wants to be the “worst in the State” for infection rates!

This shame factor makes me wonder whether Syracuse New York hospital malpractice cases would decline if their medical error rates were calculated and widely published year after year, and the hospitals were “ranked” with hospitals from around the State, from best to worst, for medical mistakes. Would the worst offenders be shamed into reducing their malpractice rates? Would all hospitals reduce their medical errors if they knew their rates were to be published in local newspapers? I think so. Hey Albany, if you are reading this, let’s try it and see!

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