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Publishing hospital infection rates – transparency, choice and quality

June 8, 2010

As one of those directly urging Andrew Lansley to publish real-time infection data for hospitals, I was delighted to see this start so soon after the election. I am confident that a) this is the first small-step in what will turn into a hugely important and powerful march to full transparency, and b) all sorts of groups will pick up the coming data and mash it into a whole range of useful, patient-friendly tools that will “nudge” patients into making the right decisions when choosing great care for themselves and their family. At the moment all too many patients choose the “default option” of their local provider and thus usually get mediocre care.

Whilst the experience of others is vital in making the right choice, so too of course is having data that really can empower and inform to bring about change. Good data does not only inform patients, but also shines a new light and understanding for those delivering the care – whether clinicians or managers. Characteristics of such information is that it is fully open and transparent (to the public and professionals), is truly comparative and is presented in a way that is meaningful to a wide audience.

This fantastic article from the Chicago Tribune shows how when this is done properly, quality, responsible journalists will use the data to inform and provoke debate across society. As well as the brilliant example of how to present comparative data in a meaningful way – it is immediately obvious to the lay-reader where they can be confident of receiving safe, excellent care – I recommend you read the comments from both the great and the aspiring-to-be-great. The comments from the hospital staff show how comparative data makes them look hard at what they do, and how they do it – and drives the desire to learn from the very best. No amount of regulations, fines and targets can bring about this culture change and considered reflection – these are challenges that society solves, not governments. By providing the necessary data in the UK, Andrew Lansley is giving society, the professions, patients and those working in the NHS the chance to deliver excellence. We (both public and professionals) should look forward to the time when we see NHS data of the quality, granularity and power as that from Chicago – and do our utmost to support this drive to excellence.

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