Among the long list of hospital errors, preventable staph infections sadly remain at the top of the list.
A baby born 15 weeks premature died after 10 days in the neonatal intensive unit after developing a deadly infection-despite being born otherwise healthy. A three year old died after developing the flu. A healthy 23 year old mother died just a year after giving birth.
These and many similar stories have been provided in a recent Reuters report on hospital bacterial infections. But patients dying from these serious infections are not what is at the forefront of the story. A much larger issue is being debated.
According to Reuters, all of these instances have one thing in common. Their death certificates fail to mention that the infection was a contributing factor to their deaths. In basic terms, this means that hospital infection-related fatalities are not being accounted for.
The Centers for Disease Control-the federal agency tasked with preventing the public from disease-typically keeps tabs on healthcare facilities but, according to Reuters, the agency simply does not have the proper resources or legal means to scrutinize these entities.
So what does this mean? The public is basically left in the dark.
Certain information is available to patients and their families about a hospital or healthcare entity's history so they can make informed decisions about the entity they chose to provide their care.
But, it's difficult to make informed decisions when not all of the information-particularly such vital information-is provided. Such materially omitted data, like hospital infection statistics, is disconcerting to many people.
No change in sight
Unfortunately, it's likely that deaths resulting from hospital related infections will continue to be absent from death certificates.
Reuters indicates that physicians or medical staff either aren't sure how to include the info on the form or they are impatient and don't want to wait for lab results if a more dominant medical condition is the so-called known cause.
Lack of incentive
And hospitals are not exactly lined up to change the protocols, given that healthcare entities and doctors risk a whole lot from publically reporting such instances. Lawsuits, potential loss of business from the public, loss of government reimbursement and higher insurance premiums are among the long list of reasons why they are likely to do nothing.
But for many people who have lost loved ones, the death certificate holds "special significance." Reuters interviewed several family members of the deceased. "To find no official record of [a healthcare infection] on the death certificate came as a shock. It was as if the killer got away," many were quoted as saying.
Fortunately, for those who have lost loved ones because of a hospital-related infection, legal recourse options may be available. A lawyer can offer guidance about the law and actions to take.