Silence is Not Golden
Imagine that a deadly microorganism has made its way to a hospital. This microorganism is resistant to most antibiotics and puts hospitals at risk of an outbreak and patients at risk of infection. Should the patients in this hospital be privy to this information?
A recent New York Times article entitled “Culture of Secrecy Shields Hospitals With Outbreaks of Drug-Resistant Infections” focuses on this question, which has become more significant due to the rise of a dangerous fungus called Candida auris. Co-authors Andrew Jacobs and Matt Richtel found that the answer is surprisingly complicated.
The debate is the result of the fact that although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently sent out a public alert in Mexico when a drug-resistant bacteria was found in a hospital in Tijuana, the CDC is “barred from publicly identifying hospitals that are battling to contain the spread of dangerous pathogens” in the United States.
Reasons for Silence in Hospitals
Below are some of the reasons (excuses) offered by powerful medical institutions and state health officials in support keeping secret this information, along with a few observations about those reasons.
- To protect a hospital’s reputation. This is clearly a selfish reason to keep secret potentially important information. Moreover, if there is a real safety issue at a hospital, perhaps it doesn’t deserve its reputation. Reputation should be based on reality, not marketing and phony information.
- To avoid public inquiry. This isn’t even remotely a satisfactory justification for hiding the truth about what is happening at a hospital.
- To encourage cooperation of hospitals and nursing homes with the CDC. In other words, healthcare facilities will not cooperate with the CDC, if the information is made available to the public. Once again, this is an argument that allows healthcare facilities to put their own economic and reputational interests ahead of patient safety. They should be working with the CDC, irrespective of whether it affects their bottom line or their reputation. Frankly, if the hospital is unsafe, perhaps its glowing reputation isn’t deserved.
- To avoid unnecessary fear among patients. If a patient who is planning an elective surgery is aware there an outbreak of a dangerous microbe, the patient may choose to have the procedure done elsewhere, which may reduce a facility’s revenue. Once again, this is a selfish motive. It is also a paternalistic argument that assumes patients can’t handle the truth. That is, of course, nonsense. Given proper information, patients can and should make decisions about their healthcare.
Consequences of Silence for Patients
There’s no other way to say it. Nothing good comes from withholding this information. Take what happened at a hospital in Seattle when almost 40 patients became infected with a drug-resistant organism they got from a contaminated medical scope. Eighteen of them died, and the hospital never disclosed the outbreak.
Patients Have the Right to Transparency
Legislators like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and California state Senator Jerry Hill, and safety organizations like Health Watch USA believe that hospitals should be required to “regularly disclose resistant infections and deaths.” Their focus is on advocating for the patients, not the hospitals.
- Disclosure could save lives. Patients and families should be able to use information about a hospital “outbreak” to make choices about whether they are willing to put themselves or their loved ones at risk. Fewer patients might actually make it easier for a hospital to contain an outbreak and decontaminate its facility.
- Public awareness could result in policy changes at hospitals. As Art Caplan, a bioethicist at the NYU School of Medicine, has explained, “The idea isn’t to embarrass or humiliate anyone, but if we don’t draw more attention to infectious disease outbreaks, nothing is going to change.” Unfortunately, sometimes policy changes are made at hospitals when – and only when – their bottom line or reputation is threatened.
Help is Available
If you or someone you love has been affected by a drug-resistant infection whose presence may have been concealed from you, The Eisen Law Firm can help. Call our experienced Cleveland malpractice lawyers to discuss your options for legal recourse and for obtaining the compensation you deserve. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-287-0900 or contact us online today.