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Are Georgia Hospitals Safe?: A Lack of Vital Information may be Compromising the Safety of Georgia Hospitals

When we go to the hospital, we go to receive treatment and care, not to contract a possibly life threatening illness. However, the reality is that not only can a hospital be a place of healing, but it is also a hot bed for germs, illness, and infections. Because of this reality, more than half of the states require a public report to be made regarding the infections patients pick up while under to care of hospitals. This is necessary so that patients can make informed decisions about where to seek medical treatment and avoid the possibility of falling victim to medical malpractice. This is also necessary to insure that a state’s hospitals are all in suitable condition to treat patients, and are not threats to public health or safety.

However, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution highlights, in the state of Georgia, no such report is required to be made by hospitals. According to Holly Long, director of the Hospital Accountability Project at Georgia Watch, “This (requiring that hospitals provide reports regarding infection rates) should be something the state does for its consumers. [A hospital’s] infection rate should not be [its] dirty little secret.”

Although state law requires that Georgia hospitals notify public health officials when they have an outbreakof, or identify, the presence of serious infectious conditions such as tuberculosis, Georgia hospitals are not required to report the most common infections patients pick up while under treatment, despite the fact that some of these infections are life threatening.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1 in 20 hospitalized patients will contract an infection while receiving care. Despite this fact, according to a recent article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, it is not possible for public health officials or patients to identify which conditions or hospitals pose the greatest threat to Georgians.

There has been state legislation proposed in the past aimed at requiring Georgia hospitals to make public information about infections that patients acquire while under treatment, but none bills have ever been approved. According to state Rep. Pat Gardner regarding the failure these proposed bills, "I think hospitals felt very defensive about releasing information because they felt it would be bad for their marketing."

Some Georgia hospitals retort that they are cautious about making this type of information publically accessible because the information acquired may be inaccurate, because of the lack of ways to precisely acquire and measure this type of data. According to Kevin Bloye, spokesman for the Georgia Hospital Association, "More transparency is what the public wants and we’re responsive to that. But the key is making sure what we report is right and fair to each of the stakeholders involved."

There are indeed some Georgia hospitals that resist divulging information to the public regarding the rate of infectious diseases acquired by patients, but there are some that voluntarily provide this information to public health officials as well as patients. Wellstar Health Systems and Peidmont Hospitals, two hospitals located in Georgia, welcome questions from patients. Peidmont Hospital even goes so far as to post internal quality data on its website.

Dr. Leigh Hamby, chief medical officer for Piedmont Healthcare applauds patients who go so far as to ask in advance about a hospitals performance before having a procedure done at a specific hospital. In fact, as Dr. Hamby’s sentiments suggest, asking questions and seeking information may be the best way for patients to protect themselves. In addition to seeking information directly from the hospital itself, patients may also be able to consult Medicare’s "Hospital Acquired Conditions" data. This data was published for the first time in April, and reports rates of two types of infections and six other preventable conditions among Medicare patients. All patients may be able to ascertain from this data the relative safety of the hospitals they are seeking to patronize.

Until the state of Georgia requires full disclosure by hospitals regarding the prevalence of infections acquired by patients while under hospital care, patients are left to do investigation on their own in order to find out what they can about the safety of the hospitals they visit. However, no matter how vigilant the patient, there will be some instances where infection will still occur. Although there are instances where hospitals cannot prevent the infection of patients, regardless of the precautionary measures taken, there are some instances where patients suffer infection because of the negligence of hospitals. In this situation, patients should always contact a Georgia Medical Malpractice Attorney to represent their interests.