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IOWA CITY, Iowa-A prestigious Iowa hospital is refusing to publicly release its nosocomial infection rate, and it has the backing of the state's hospital association, which says releasing such information isn't in the public's best interest.

Nosocomial infections are infections that patients acquire during their hospital stays.

In a case pending before the Iowa Supreme Court, the attorney for University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City recently argued that releasing the hospital's infection rate would jeopardize the hospital's efforts to prevent such hospital-acquired infections.

And in an amicus brief, the Assn. of Iowa Hospitals & Health Systems said releasing data on nosocomial infections would run counter to public interest.

Hospitals' case mix, procedure preference and sample size, among other factors, affect the data and make comparisons between facilities difficult, the association said. Analyzing hospitals' quality-improvement processes and infection-control programs would give consumers more useful information, it said.

The case dates back to 1994, when the 822-bed hospital refused to release its infection rate to Karen Burton, a 52-year-old retiree who was trying to pick a hospital at which to have elective ear surgery.

Ms. Burton, who has yet to have the procedure, sued the hospital, claiming its refusal violated the state's open-records law. The university facility is a state-owned institution.

It's absurd to ask people to choose whether and where to have surgery without giving them facilities' infection rates, Ms. Burton said. "It's basic risk information," she said. "If this weren't the health care arena, where there's a tradition of guild-like behavior, people wouldn't think twice about releasing this."

The hospital argues that infection-rate data must be kept confidential. If not, physicians and other clinical workers might stop reporting the information, hindering efforts to reduce nosocomial infections.

Technically, the case focuses on whether the Iowa open-records law requires such information to be made public. The hospital argues the law gives it discretion in the matter; Ms. Burton contends it doesn't.

A state trial court earlier had sided with Ms. Burton, ordering the hospital to release the information. The state Supreme Court's ruling on the hospital's appeal is expected this summer.