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Why keep us in the dark?

If you lived in British Columbia, you’d be able to find out how your local hospital measures up against others in the province.

If you lived in British Columbia, you’d be able to find out how your local hospital measures up against others in the province.

Sadly, in this province, Albertans have been denied a similar opportunity. That means ordinary citizens here have little chance of finding out which hospitals are the best and which are the worst.

The performance of Alberta hospitals has been outlined in a new report from the Fraser Institute.

Among other things, the report notes that one Alberta hospital has an injury rate for newborns that is more than four times the provincial average.

“Patients in another Alberta hospital are five times as likely to pick up an infection following medical care,” according to the report, “while patients at yet another hospital are more than twice as likely to experience bed sores.”

So where are these troubled hospitals? In Red Deer? Three Hills? Vegreville?

It’s impossible to say because Alberta Health Services has refused to release the hospital names that should be featured in Hospital Report Card Alberta 2009.

“If I want to buy a car, I can go on the Internet and get all kinds of information about quality, safety, reliability, and even ratings and comments from experts and other customers,” says Nadeem Esmail, Fraser Institute director of health system performance studies. “But when it comes to the quality and safety of services provided by Alberta hospitals, a cone of silence descends.

“By failing to allow hospital performances to be objectively measured and reported, the Alberta government is refusing to commit to accountability and transparency, something I’m sure most Albertans will find unacceptable.”

The peer-reviewed study produced for the Fraser Institute appears to be comprehensive, indeed.

It is based on the examination of more than 1.7 million anonymous patient records from the Canadian Institute for Health Information’s (CHI) Discharge Abstract Database.

The information is extraordinarily detailed, but it’s essentially useless to the average Albertan because of the ridiculous decision of Alberta Health Services to keep the hospital names secret.

“It’s unfortunate that Alberta Health Services has chosen to hide behind a wall of anonymity,” says Esmail. “Their actions stand in stark contrast to the government of British Columbia, which released the names of all hospitals for the (Fraser) Institute’s B.C. hospital report card in May, allowing British Columbians to make more informed decisions about their health care, based on valid and accurate indicators of the quality of in-hospital care.”

The Alberta government should be ashamed.

Clearly Premier Ed Stelmach, Health Minister Ron Liepert and their colleagues are not as enlightened as British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and his crew.

Whatever happened to the Alberta Advantage?

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.