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Hospital Report

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The premier resource for hospital professionals from Relias Media, the trusted source for healthcare information and continuing education.

A step back on data transparency

March 18th, 2015

I guess this is what happens when I get my hopes up.

Back on June 4, I wrote about what I considered to be some very positive signs indicating that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) had gotten serious about committing to data transparency in health care.

After all, it wasn’t so long ago that Marilyn Tavenner and two co-authors wrote a fairly stirring defense in the New England Journal of Medicine of the agency’s decision to release certain Medicare physician data.

That piece ended with this – to my mind – incredibly encouraging paragraph: “CMS is committed to producing and releasing high-quality data that permit as many users as possible to better understand the Medicare program. The physician data release is part of a broader strategy of data transparency, and we plan to continue to release additional data in the future. We believe that transparency will drive health system improvement.”

What a difference two months can make. As you may have heard by now, on August 6, USA Today reported that CMS has quietly removed data on eight hospital-acquired conditions from its Hospital Compare site. Among the eight are air embolism and foreign objects left in the body after surgery, according to the article.

I understand that plenty of good people working in hospitals are happy about this development. I understand that the data on some of these conditions might not be the most complete, and I understand that some people in the industry might worry that it could be misinterpreted by a general public that is not exactly brimming with expert statisticians.

But if we accept the notion that transparency can drive improvement – and I think we should – then why not err on the side of more disclosure, rather than less?

Personally, I find it disheartening to see CMS pull back from data transparency at a time when it really looked as though they were starting to embrace it.