"Big Brother" may be keeping watch on patient safety practices

Maryland is using some of its funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to pay for "secret shoppers" to evaluate whether hospital staff members are washing their hands.  At the same time, Rhode Island health officials have ordered video monitoring of surgeries at one hospital after a rash of wrong-site surgical errors.

According to American Medical News, in early November the state launched a safety initiative using $100,000 in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- popularly known as the federal stimulus package -- funds to help hospitals train "secret shoppers" to monitor health workers' hand hygiene. Forty-five of the state's 47 acute care hospitals have joined the voluntary initiative.

Hospitals increasingly are turning to these surveillance methods and others, such as motion sensors and radio frequency identification chips, say patient safety experts. But even some surveillance advocates worry that patient safety's prying eyes could go too far, and, if implemented sloppily, surveillance could prompt a backlash from health professionals.

(SOURCES: HCPro Patient Safety Monitor, http://hcpro.com, December 2, 2009)