The number of hospital infections continues to rise.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a federal agency, says in its latest annual report that "very little progress" was made in 2009, with bloodstream infections up 8% and urinary tract infections up 3.6%.
The irony is this is preventable. Checklists, as advocated in new books by Atul Gawande of The New Yorker and checklist pioneer Peter Pronovost (right) at Johns Hopkins, can dramatically cut infection rates.
But as Pronovost himself said in a recent interview, "a toxic hospital culture" in which junior nurses can't speak up to senior physicians is preventing progress.
Without open communication, and a willingness on the part of surgeons to admit possible mistakes, the toll will keep rising, he says.
Patients find it hard to protect themselves because safety data is usually kept from the public.
Maybe getting hit in the wallet would help. The health reform law calls for hospitals with high infection rates to be penalized starting in late 2014. But if cost as well as quality numbers are hidden from the public, even that won't have an impact.
Despite protests by surgeons and hospitals this data needs to come out. Before I'm going to put my life in someone's hands I deserve to know their record on life-threatening infections, and the hospital's record.
Of course, what's good for the goose should be good for every gander. The latest Vital Health Report shows most Americans don't know the numbers most vital to their health -- cholesterol count, body mass index, blood pressure, resting heart rate -- and think if they're living a "healthy lifestyle" by their own lights they're fine.
So before you go marching on your local hospital, demanding change, here's your checklist. Complete the questionnaire and then follow the links.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com