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Report: U.S. Hospitals Make Fewer Serious Errors; 50,000 Lives Saved

Findings represent ‘unprecedented decline’ in patient harm, official says

U.S. government health officials have announced that approximately 50,000 people are alive today because hospitals committed 17% fewer medical errors in 2013 than in 2010, according to a Reuters report.

The lower rate of fatalities from poor care and mistakes was one of several “historic improvements” in hospital quality and safety measured by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They included a 9% decline in the rate of hospital-acquired conditions, such as infections, bedsores, and pneumonia, from 2012 to 2013.

Sylvia Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), announced the data on December 2 at the CMS Healthcare Quality Conference, held in Baltimore, Maryland. The findings were based on an analysis of tens of thousands of medical records, but because the data were collected differently before 2010, it is not possible to compare pre-2010 figures with later ones.

The problem of hospital error attracted national attention in 1999 when the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 people died every year because of hospital mistakes that allowed patients to contract infections, fall, develop pneumonia from being on a ventilator, or experience other serious but preventable harm.

In 2010, the HHS inspector general estimated that poor care in hospitals contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients covered by Medicare, which insures the disabled and persons 65 years of age or older.

Officials, speaking to reporters ahead of Burwell’s speech, offered possible explanations for the decline in sometimes-fatal hospital-acquired injuries, infections, and other conditions.

Hospitals have made a concerted effort to improve safety, spurred in large part by changes in how Medicare pays them. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires the CMS to reduce the reimbursement rate for hospitals that re-admit too many patients within 30 days –– an indication of poor care the first time.

As a result of the improvements in hospital safety, 1.3 million fewer patients experienced a hospital-acquired condition in 2013 than if the 2010 rate had remained steady, CMS Deputy Administrator Dr. Patrick Conway told reporters. That produced savings of some $12 billion from avoidable costs, such as for treating a bloodstream infection due to a catheter.

“This is welcome news for patients and their families,” Conway said, and represents an “unprecedented decline in patient harm in this country.”

Source: Reuters; December 2, 2014.


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