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After underwhelming first report, Health Dept. to tweak hospital data reporting formula

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — After reviewing the state’s first-ever annual report on hospital discharge data Monday, officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health agreed that the reporting formula needs improvements.

State Epidemiologist Sherri Davidson went over the findings of the new report, which is composed of data elements such as patient zip codes, ages and ethnicities. 

Until 2021, Alabama remained one of only two states that did not require hospitals to submit patient discharge data to the state. In March of 2021, Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law the Alabama Hospital Discharge Data Act, which required all hospitals to regularly submit patient discharge data to the ADPH, or face fines of $10 for every unreported patient.

The act also created the Hospital Discharge Data Advisory Council, the ASPH body responsible for setting the reporting formula for hospitals to use.

The report, which consisted of patient discharge data for the entirety of 2022, revealed that there were 570,720 inpatient hospital discharges that year. Those 66 and older made up the bulk of discharged patients at 39% of all discharges, whereas 67.1% of all discharged patients were white, compared to 28.1% Black.

Yet despite 100% of Alabama hospitals participating in the new reporting requirements, the data, Davidson said, was “limited” in its usefulness.

“As we started to look through the data, we realized a lot of the analysis that we thought we were going to be able to do was limited because of the limited (data) fields that we were receiving.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris attributed the underwhelming report to “growing pains” associated with the new reporting process, but was confident that his agency would develop and agree on a more efficient reporting formula by the end of the year.

(The report) gives us pictures of the health of patients in Alabama’s hospitals; what are people being hospitalized for, for how long, and so on,” Harris told ADN.

“What was shown today in the meeting was really about the level of details we have, and clearly, that’s not going to be good enough for us. We need more information in order to be able to do the things that we want to do in public health, (but) I think we’ll get there.”

Danne Howard, deputy director of the Alabama Hospital Association, a trade organization that advocates for Alabama hospitals, agreed that the findings of the report did not have much practical use in its current form, but that adding additional required data elements for hospitals to report – things like diagnosis codes that provide data but protect patients’ identities – could dramatically improve the report’s usefulness.

Howard added that once the ADPH agrees on what data elements to add to the reporting formula, producing a new 2022 report would be a relatively quick affair.

“We were all so focused on making sure that the IT systems matched and all of the (data) fields worked that things got overlooked, on our side and on the Health Department’s side,” Howard said. 

“There were some fields that should have been included that were not, and we are going to rerun the 2022 data. There is going to be a wealth of additional information coming to the Health Department which will allow for a more detailed analysis on their side.”

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