- District of Columbia officials closed down United Medical Center’s obstetrics ward following reports of dangerous errors by hospital staff, The Washington Post reported.
- Among other things, the public hospital failed to take precautions to prevent maternal transmission of HIV to a newborn and properly monitor a morbidly obese woman for known blood pressure issues, a letter obtained by the Post revealed.
- The hospital, which serves largely poor and African American residents east of the Anacostia River, refused to discuss the reasons for the shutdown, citing patient privacy concerns.
The situation emphasizes the need to balance patient privacy with the public’s right to know about hospital performance and errors. CMS makes inspection reports on public hospitals available on its website.
Earlier this month, CMS abandoned plans to make public reports by private healthcare accreditors. The agency proposed the idea in April, saying it would resolve the inconsistency of some inspections being made public while others are not. At the time, officials stressed the importance of continuing “to lead the effort to make information regarding a healthcare facility’s compliance with health and safety requirements” publicly available.
CMS later abandoned the plan out of concern that federal law barring agencies from revealing results of audits performed by private accrediting bodies could cast the requirement as an attempt to circumvent that law.
The American Hospital Association has supported making hospital quality information public, but questioned the move to release detailed inspection reports that are not easily understood.
Last year, then-National Coordinator of Health IT Dr. Vindell Washington identified the need for cultural changes around health data sharing as one of three components necessary for interoperability. Among other things, he called on HHS’ Office for Civil Rights to clarify rules HIPAA so that they are better understood.
The HITECH Act included provisions to strengthen HIPAA privacy protections and HHS’ authority to enforce them. Those measures included self-reporting of privacy breaches and stiffer fines for violations up to $1.5 million.