2011-10-20

Then Again, What is the MRSA Infection Rate at Private Clinics?

The Ottawa area has been all aflutter with recent news that some local testing clinics cut corners on their safety standards and inadvertently subjected patients to possible hepatitis and HIV infections. No word yet as to whether anyone was actually infected, though. At this point, the news is mostly a scare. The clinics in question became aware of the potential risks and immediately notified the relevant individuals. All else published in the news - at least as far as I can see - is a dialogue on safety shortfalls in health care.

"Safety" is one of those esoteric economic goods of which we can never have enough. More is always better, less is always worse, and the price elasticity appears to be more or less perfectly inelastic for scary things like infections. (Although, many have noted that safety concerns don't always reflect the kind of rationality associated with probabilistic risk ranking.)

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that one safety lapse in a single part of the country has prompted a national dialogue and general public hysteria. As the CBC reports, local health economist Douglas Angus puts to words what everyone in the country seems to be thinking. From the story:
"When you get into the private clinics and facilities of that nature, it appears we don't have the same kind of oversight and regulatory environment as hospitals," adds Angus
So people by and large automatically assume that the safety lapse was caused by a lack of oversight. The assumption is that, because the private clinics "don't adhere to the same standards," then they automatically adhere to lower standards, which therefore put everyone at risk.

I don't think this kind of reasoning has a shred of evidence to support it.

By definition, clinics that engage in low standards have low standards, but we have no evidence to suggest that any of these private clinics had lower standards than any public clinic in the city.

We also have plenty of evidence suggesting that public sector clinic standards do not avoid every scary infection, nor do they even decrease the rate of scary infections.

In fact, there is probably no significant correlation between the adoption of public clinic standards and the rate of scary infections at medical clinics.

Sometimes bad things happen. Bad things can happen anywhere, in any building, regardless of who pays the employees there. It pays to keep in mind that not every unfortunate event requires federal government intervention.