Lawmakers look at boosting information for patients

By Christine Sexton, News Service of Florida
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Would-be patients would have the benefit of knowing whether health care providers working at hospitals and outpatient surgery centers go to their own facilities to seek treatment, under a bill that has been fast-tracked in the Florida House.

The bill (HB 35), approved Tuesday by the House Health & Human Services Committee, would require a series of measurements of patient safety.

While bill sponsor Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, told committee members that the information can be used to help improve health care and lower costs for consumers, hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers maintain the requirements are duplicative and would increase regulatory costs.

“We all want a safer, healthier Florida, and this bill will help us get to that goal,” Grant said.

The bill would require the state Agency for Health Care Administration to design patient safety and culture surveys. In doing so, AHCA would review and analyze similar surveys developed by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire developed by the University of Texas.

Grant said the state-developed surveys would differ from the national ones because they would contain questions about where staff seeks care and make the information publicly available. That's something, he said, that isn't available now to patients and would-be patients.

The annual survey also would measure issues such as the frequency of adverse events, comfort levels in reporting potential problems or errors and staff perceptions about the support of facilities for patient safety. To encourage staff participation, the survey would be anonymous.

The findings would be published on a state-maintained website that also posts information about health care costs. 

AHCA estimated that it would cost the state about $360,000 to develop and implement the survey. But Grant said savings that would result from increased quality would far outweigh the initial costs.

“There is a direct correlation between patient care and safety and survey results. And I believe that if this bill passes and is implemented you will find better patient care, which will lead to lower costs, which is something I think we are all looking for in the state of Florida” he said. “So the $360,000 we are spending will be more than mitigated by the cost savings and the patient savings we will have.”

Keri Eisenbeis, director of government relations for the BayCare health system, said the bill is problematic. She said the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey allows the industry to compare itself to hospitals nationally. While the information isn't publicly disseminated, she said patients already have access to hospital quality data.

For instance, BayCare, which includes 14 hospitals in the greater Tampa area, already posts on its website information from the U.S, Department of Health and Human Services about how the hospital compares to others nationally, she said.

The surveys included in Grant's bill are “specific and unique” and, Eisenbeis said, consumers won't be able to compare the information with hospitals nationally.

“The system's not broke, we don't feel the need to fix it,” she said.

Florida Hospital Association Bruce Rueben agreed. He said his association initiated what it calls the “Hospital Improvement Innovation Network” in 2008.

As part of the initiative, hospitals conduct nationally recognized surveys to assess patient safety culture. He said the effort has prevented at least 31,000 instances of patient harm while avoiding $198 million in costs.

Similar to Eisenbeis, Rueben noted that patients already have access to hospital quality information that can help them make informed health-care choices.

“Consequently, House Bill 35 will unnecessarily increase government regulations without improving clinical performance, or help patients make informed health care decisions,” Rueben said in a statement to The News Service of Florida.

The bill was sent to just one committee and is now ready to go straight to the full House for consideration after the start of the 2018 session in January.

Committee member Lori Berman, D- Lantana, said she supports making the results of patient safety surveys publicly available but said she had concerns that it could be an “onerous burden” for the facilities.

She questioned whether Florida needed to develop its own survey and state-specific questions. While she supported the bill in committee, she said she may vote otherwise when it goes to the House floor.

News Service of Florida