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Loss of a loved one less frequent when hospitals are inspected

People who are hospitalized understandably expect that they will receive top-notch care regardless of outside influences. Ideally, medical professionals should behave identically when they are working without scrutiny of job performance as when they are being inspected by regulatory agencies. However, a recent study revealed that there were fewer deaths in hospitals during weeks in which accreditation inspectors were on site than at other times. Those who have suffered the loss of a loved one after a worsened medical condition due to what they perceive was a medical mistake or negligence should be aware of this finding.

The researchers examined the years 2008 to 2012 and the mortality information for 1,984 hospitals across the country. When there were unannounced inspections, 7.03 percent of patients died within one month of hospital admission. During other periods, it was 7.21 percent within the one month. Hospitals that are used for teaching had a greater disparity. The rate of death was 5.93 percent during those inspection periods in comparison to 6.41 percent at other times. A researcher involved in the project believes that medical professionals have a greater attention to detail when they are being watched.

The inspections that were used as part of the study were conducted by the Joint Commission. This is an independent non-profit entity that conducts evaluations of hospitals every third year to assess their ability to prevent deaths that could have been avoided, mistakes, infections and more. It is in the interest of the hospital and its bottom line to do well on these inspections. If there are failures, it costs them money through stopped payments from Medicaid and Medicare. This often amounts to 50 percent of the revenue a hospital accrues.

Nearly 245,000 patients were counted in the study when the inspection was occurring, while more than 1 million were counted in the three weeks before inspection. They varied in gender, age and medical issues, with most suffering from chronic health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease. During weeks of inspection, there was a 1.5 percent reduction in fatalities. For teaching hospitals, it was 5.9 percent.

This research makes clear that medical professionals may be more vigilant during inspection periods, and those who believe a loved one died as a result of a wrongful death incident should consider investigating their legal options further.

Source: Reuters, "Hospitals have lower death rates during surprise inspections," Lisa Rappaport, March 20, 2017

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