Reimbursement penalties did not reduce hospital-acquired infection rates; harsher sanctions might be needed, Harvard researchers say

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Financial penalties did not reduce healthcare facility-acquired infections in acute-care settings, a new study finds. Researchers say harsher sanctions might help.

Harvard Medical School investigators examined infection rates in hospitals affected by a 2008 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services policy that denied additional payments to hospitals whose patients acquired bloodstream or urinary tract infections. The penalty did not reduce infection rates, which were already declining due to several pre-existing infection control campaigns and interventions, according to study authors.

Results of this investigations come as regulators increasingly work to implement healthcare reform policies that incentivize coordination between acute- and post-acute providers. The results are consistent with other studies evaluating pay-for-performance policies, experts say.

“Because the financial effect may have been perceived as limited … hospitals may not have made additional investments in prevention of infection. Greater financial penalties might induce a greater change in hospital responsiveness to the CMS policy,” the authors wrote.

The study was published Oct. 10 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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