With the implementation of CMS's new on-line searchable database in partnership with the Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ), the public now can view hospital Statements of Deficiencies (Form 2567) on the AHCJ website. The CMS action offers new transparency for hospitals and eliminates the need for consumers and journalists to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to view certain hospital deficiencies.

The AHCJ database, however, has become a source of concern for hospitals due to a lack of completeness and an absence of context. For example, only reports issued since January, 2011 are contained in the database, and this information is limited to complaint investigations. Because narrative descriptions frequently are written to support remedial actions, they may skew or distort the magnitude of the deficiency. Additionally, no hospital plan of correction or other responses are contained in the database because CMS had not fully processed this information at the time the data was released. Although the agency has said it will add this information to the database in the future, this action will be contingent on available funding.

The searchable results from the database are difficult, if not impossible, to use when comparing hospitals on a quality or price basis. This is because the data is not integrated with the CMS Hospital Compare website, which includes patient survey information, measures of care, readmission, complications and mortality data, or with the agency's recent release of hospital price information (see the May 16, 2013, issue of the Health Law Update). Also of concern is the absence of certain important protections, such as the right of hospitals to appeal any disputed data posted to the AHCJ website.

As a result of all of these things, consumers (and perhaps investigative news reporters) could possibly misinterpret what information is given and improperly ascribe negative connotations to one or more hospitals. Further, the publication of data from the hospital Statements of Deficiencies on the AHCJ website may increase public pressure for The Joint Commission and other accrediting bodies to release the results of their hospital accreditation surveys. Consequently, hospitals should work to assure their accreditation reports are carefully monitored and correct and that their responses to findings are written with an eye toward possible public disclosure.