Will other states follow suit?
Illinois hospitals are in the process of developing procedures for fielding questions about the Hospital Report Card Act, an Illinois law that became effective in January. As the first point of contact for most patients, access departments are likely to feel the impact as consumers make use of their increased ability to get answers to a variety of questions about hospital operations. The law, which is the first of its kind in the country, gives Illinois consumers direct access to comprehensive information about nurse staffing levels, patient outcomes, infection rates, and mortality rates in every licensed hospital in the state.
The bipartisan measure provides that some staffing and training information will be disclosed by hospitals upon request, while additional nursing and nosocomial infection data will be reported to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), which will release the information to the public.
Law represents landmark change
The Illinois Hospital Association (IHA) described the Hospital Report Card Act as "not only a landmark change for consumers in Illinois, but for hospitals, their medical staff, the professionals hospitals employ, and the IDPH."
The law could potentially spread to other states, suggests Liz Kehrer, CHAM, system administrator for patient access at Centegra Health System in McHenry, IL. She says "due to recent suspicious inquiries," it became necessary for her hospital to develop a protocol for responding to questions inquiries regarding the report card. Facilities must have a process in place to meet consumer needs in accordance with the law and, at the same time, not jeopardize their security in any way, Kehrer points out. The following guidelines have been developed at her hospital:
- If the person inquiring about staffing is a current inpatient or a family member of a patient, the information should be provided them as requested.
- If the inquiring individual is associated with the media, the inquiry should be routed to the marketing department, which will respond to the request.
- For all other requests, take the person’s name and address, and advise that you will respond to the inquiry by mail within 24 hours.
According to a summary by the IHA, Illinois consumers have access to the following new information under the law:
- Unit staffing schedules
- Nurse-patient assignment rosters
- Hospital-specific methodologies to determine and adjust nurse staffing levels
- Records of staff training
- Nursing coverage, reported in standardized units
- Select hospital-borne infections based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention definitions and associated with burdensome consequences for the patient, as well as high treatment costs
- Mortality data that hospitals have been submitting for years to the state that will be appropriately risk-adjusted, so that any comparisons will be valid
- An annual progress report on the act’s prescribed activities to the General Assembly
Whistle-blower provisions in the law provide immunity from employer actions for hospital employees who, in good faith, disclose activities that they believe may pose a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of hospital patients or the public.
To qualify for immunity under the act, employees must provide to their managers a written notice of the problem and a reasonable period to address the concern. In turn, the manager is obligated to respond in writing within seven days, acknowledging that notice was received.