In April, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a list of medical errors at 4,700 hospitals across the country, 45 of them in Colorado.
The report included medical errors reported by Medicare patients only from October 2008 to June 2010.
Errors, called hospital acquired conditions, included eight categories: foreign object retained after surgery, air embolism, blood incompatibility, pressure ulcer stages III and IV, falls and trauma, vascular catheter-associated infection, catheter-associated urinary tract infection and manifestations of poor glycemic control.
In the report, hospitals are listed next to the eight categories showing the number of incidents versus the number of patients seen. Next to that is a ratio outlining the percentage of errors to patients and numbers comparing the number of incidents to averages around the country.
The top five worst ratios of errors to patients were found in three hospitals: Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center in Denver, St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco and Vail Valley Medical Center.
St. Anthony Summit had the highest ratio of errors to patient ratio with one instance of leaving a foreign object in a patient during surgery. According to the report, the hospital had 176 surgeries during the time of the report. St. Anthony Summit also had the fourth worst ratio for having one instance of vascular catheter-associated infection out of 321 patients.
The second and fifth worst ratio was at Presbyterian/St. Luke's. The hospital had 16 instances of vascular catheter-associated infection out of 4,060 patients and 10 catheter-associated urinary tract infections out of 4,060 patients respectively.
The third worst ratio belonged to Vail Valley Medical Center, with two instances of falls and trauma out of 608 patients in the report.
The Colorado Hospital Association says it is important to take this report in context.
There is no statistic available from the American Hospital Association or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services that shows what percentage of the hospital population this represents on the whole. The closest representation is the fact that roughly 55 percent of hospital revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid patients, though it is not clear what percentage represents Medicare alone.
There is also no report that exists that encompasses a consistent level of reporting standards from hospital across the country. The reporting of medical errors is left up to individual states. The only reporting by the federal government and the Department of Health and Human Services, includes only Medicare patients and many in the industry agree the area of information in this area could use improvement.
However, President and CEO of the Colorado Hospital Association Steven Summer says the health industry has come a long way in reporting useful information for the public about medical errors and hospital safety.
"This area has just started to go down the path but it has made great progress in a short time. We have started going in the direction we need to go but we have to make sure the information is accurate, timely, completely understood and can be applied in a way that's easy to understand," Summer said.
He argues the report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and the reporting of medical errors by numbers alone, does little to give the public any direction in choosing a hospital.
Summer says it is important for patients to do their homework using reports that are available now, but it is more important that they ask questions about their individual care while they are at the hospital.
"If a nurse is bringing you medication you should be asking what the medication is. If you are having a procedure, you should ask about it and the hospital's history of performing that procedure and any incidents of error," Summer said.
Although there are reports of blatant errors in the media, Summer says there are a lot of hard statistics that show that patient safety is becoming a bigger priority and improving in care facilities across the country and Colorado has been a leader in that area.
"Over the next three or four years we'll get there. We can't just turn a switch to get there but we are on the path and the journey will take us where we need to go," Summer said.
Click here to search hospital on the Department of Health and Human Service Hospital Compare website.
To search reporting on Colorado hospitals log onto the Colorado Hospital Association's Colorado Hospital Report Card website.
Look at the entire medical errors report.
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