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Seriously…Cleveland Clinic?

Sweeping Dirt Under RugHarvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford – all are very prestigious universities.

Likewise, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins and Cleveland Clinic – are all are very prestigious medical facilities, right?

Having a stellar reputation takes years (and generations) to build, whether it’s institutions of higher learning, healthcare organizations or law firms, etc. Being ‘prestigious’ comes with many flattering adjectives like: celebrated, trusted, respected, prominent, great, important, imposing, influential, renowned, and exalted.

The Cleveland Clinic has enjoyed this elevated stature for years. But, unfortunately in healthcare, it may be easier (and cheaper) to ‘buy’ an image of quality than it is to consistently perform quality care practices day in and day out – especially when the image is protected by suppressing information from state and federal authorities regarding safety practices.

Believe it or not, Cleveland Clinic was on a “termination track” with Medicare between 2010 and 2013 (19 total months) for more than a dozen inspections that occurred due to patient complaints. Cleveland Clinic was threatened to lose its almost $1 billion annual Medicare reimbursements – quite a hit, even for a multi-billion dollar organization. After repeated Cleveland Clinic violations, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) took the unusual step to personally cite CEO Toby Cosgrove and the Cleveland Clinic Governing Board.

In June, Modern Healthcare reported that retired Air Force Col. David Antoon had accused Cleveland Clinic of withholding documents from federal authorities while the Clinic was being investigated for substituting Antoon’s authorized surgeon with a medical resident that resulted in a gross medical mistake. Mr. Antoon suffered serious disabling injuries resulting in the loss of his job as an airline pilot.

According to this article, and based on my correspondence with Mr. Antoon, the Cleveland Clinic hid important documentation from federal inspectors to avoid responsibility (and liability) for their derelict actions. If this can happen at a prestigious institution, you can be confident that it can happen anywhere.

As mentioned in previous blogs, Rosemary Gibson, senior advisor at The Hastings Center, did a splendid job of explaining in her book, “Wall of Silence,” how the ‘medical industrial complex’ in this country is conspicuously silent when it comes to medical mistakes that kill and injure millions of Americans.

U.S News & World Report recently published the ‘Best Hospitals Rankings’ and placed the Cleveland Clinic in the top position for Urology. In contrast, Healthgrades ranked Cleveland Clinic with the lowest possible score for prostatectomy outcomes; CMS data for Hospital Acquired Conditions (HACs) placed Cleveland Clinic in the bottom 7% of all hospitals with a score of 8.7 (scores ranging from 1- 10, with ten being the worst); and the independent Leapfrog Group gave the first ever “D” grade to Cleveland Clinic for patient safety. WDAF-TV (Kansas City, MO) recently reported that hospitals must pay US News to use the “Best Hospitals” logo in advertising. Many rating organizations charge hospitals to market their grades. So what can the public believe: “pay to play” advertising or independent reviews?

The Cleveland Clinic will continue to pay US News to market itself as evidence that they are a ‘prestigious’ medical organization, and yet quietly sweep the CMS action, and other independent negative reviews, under the rug.

Again, my point is simple. If this happens to the prestigious Cleveland Clinic, it can happen anywhere – and it does. Unfortunately, the Cleveland Clinic story is only the tip of the proverbial medical iceberg. The medical industry is unwilling and, quite frankly, unable to reform itself from within. Because of this reluctance, it is now time for the public to apply transparency measures. Our own lives may depend on it.

As the saying goes: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” I think this easily applies to all of us who continue to allow the medical establishment to self-regulate with secrecy – resulting in unnecessary harm to unsuspecting patients.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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