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House Panel Urges Caution on Standards for Reporting Hospital Infections

MARCH 29, 2006 -- While praising state laws designed to increase public disclosure of infection rates in hospitals, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Joe L. Barton, R-Texas, also voiced concern at a Wednesday hearing of the Oversight Subcommittee about the impact on consumers and hospitals.

Barton said varying state laws could confuse consumers and impose wasteful administrative costs on hospitals.

Rep. Edward Whitfield, R-Ky., who chaired the subcommittee hearing, noted that six states have passed laws to increase public disclosure and that another 20 to 30 have legislative proposals pending. More experience with those laws is needed before any federal action is taken to bring uniformity to such reporting, he said.

Among the problems that need to be addressed is the development of reporting approaches that ensure valid comparisons between hospitals. Some facilities will report they have higher rates because they have sicker patients than hospitals with lower infection rates, he noted.

But that argument shouldn't be an excuse for not measuring infection rates, said Richard P. Shannon, an executive with Pittsburgh's Allegheny General Hospital. "The correct approach is for each hospital to demonstrate consistent progress" toward the goal of having no infections, Shannon said. "To those that argue that their patients are sicker, I say, 'then all the more reason to perfect your processes, as no critically ill patient gets better with a superimposed hospital-acquired infection,' " he said.

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