A Hospital Comes Clean

Beth Israel Deaconess has elected to make its infection rates and other unsavory stats open to the public. Let's see if other hospitals follow suit.

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How good is your local hospital at hand-washing? Administrators might—or might not—be tracking how faithfully their doctors, nurses, and other caregivers disinfect their hands with soap and water or an alcohol gel before touching patients. Either way, just try asking for this information. Good luck. How about the frequency of patient falls? Good luck again.

But you can find out such facts about Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess, where president and CEO Paul Levy this week hung out several shelves' worth of the hospital's linen, both clean and dirty, on a new Web page. I know of no other hospital that is so open, and navigating is a snap.

The public can see with a couple of clicks, for instance, that hand-washing is not something that Beth Israel caregivers are diligent about—it's neglected more than 40 percent of the time on the patient floors and almost 30 percent of the time in the ICUs, where patients are especially vulnerable. Nor does Beth Israel do so well at preventing patient falls; 3.5 percent of patients in medical units and 2.5 percent in surgical units fell at some point, against comparative benchmarks of 2.8 and 1.5 percent. Hearing these figures makes Levy wince. "But if you're going to do this, you have to show the good, the bad, and the ugly," he told me. And there are brag-worthy numbers, too. Certain kinds of infections have commendably low rates, and so do cases of pneumonia in patients on ventilators.

Levy has something of a mania about transparency and accurate data, as regular readers of his blog, Running a Hospital, already know. I alluded in my June 1 entry to his argument for giving hospitals direct access to state data banks to keep critical numbers as up to date as possible. It'll be fun to see what else he has in store for Beth Israel and whether other hospitals, in particular his friendly competitors in Boston's hospital hotbed, do the same.

He's been blogging for only about a year, and it's taken more time and energy than he thought it would. But he vows to continue. This guy is really a breath of fresh air. See for yourself.