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Unclean: California's new hospital infection data

Unclean: California's new hospital infection data

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

California's long-awaited hospital infection data aren't ready for prime-time.

Last month, journalist Deborah Shoch of our sister program California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting detailed one woman's battle to get state officials to release individual hospital infection data.

The data finally have been released by the California Department of Public Health, but for now are of little use to consumers - or journalists, for that matter.

As Schoch reports:

This landmark report turns out to be a rough draft, a first stab at reporting by a department hobbled by funding shortages and deep-seated fears of misrepresenting data collected from hospitals.

All over the state Thursday evening, journalists scrambled to make sense of the data so that their readers and listeners would learn promptly about infection rates at local hospitals. What they found were the same pitfalls consumers face when they go on line.

Those pitfalls, Schoch reports, include missing data and "a chorus of caveats" from health officials warning the public not to compare hospitals with each other because of differences in the ways that each hospital documented and reported infections.

You can read the California Department of Public Health's statement on the data's limitations here.

As this data gets cleaned up, we'll be back with some tips for using it to cover hospitals and patient safety in your community.

Let's hope that happens sooner rather than later. California is the last large state to publicly release hospital infection data (27 states already have done so). Officials have had 27 months to get these data ready (they blame furloughs and budget cuts for the delay and errors).  Hospital-acquired infections kill an estimated 12,000 Californians each year. And new research suggests that hospitalized children around the nation increasingly are becoming infected with Clostridium difficile, one of the bacteria tracked by California's new hospital infection reporting system.

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