Hospital Errors Declining, Saving Thousands

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According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), hospital errors, leading to further injury, sickness, infection and even death have seen a steady decline in recent years, likely saving some 50,000 patients. Mistakes dropped 1.3 million from 2010-13, or about 17 percent, says the report.

In addition to thousands of saved lives, the decrease in errors avoided roughly $12 billion in healthcare costs. Due in part to initiatives under the Affordable Care Act such as Medicare and Medicaid payment incentives and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative, the amount of hospital-acquired injuries, illnesses and infections dropped from 27 percent to their current level. While the improvement is clear, it is unknown whether the goals set in 2011 by the HHS will be reached. The department set goals to reduce hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent and readmission by 20 percent in three years.

The government has spent years devising tactics and incentives to improve patient safety in healthcare facilities, and it seems to be working. Medicare and Medicaid payment incentives reward hospitals and doctors for implementing safer procedures and recommended tools, and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative works with healthcare facilities, patients and communities to improve safety and lower readmission rates.

Common hospital-acquired conditions include, but are not limited to, urinary-tract infections from catheters, gastrointestinal infections, surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, pressure ulcers and adverse drug events due to drug allergies, over medicating and patients receiving the wrong drug altogether. According to CNN, the biggest improvement in healthcare safety was a 40 percent decrease in drug-related mistakes. The instance of patients developing bed sores also decreased significantly, along with a noticeably reduced instance of catheter-related injury.

According to the report, the largest gains were made in 2012 and 2013, with $8 million saved, 35,000 fewer deaths and 800,000 fewer hospital-acquired conditions in 2013 alone. HHS Secretary, Sylvia Burwell, said the data represent significant progress that the HHS hopes to continue to build on with help from many private and public partners, including Quality Improvement Organizations and Hospital Engagement Networks.

Despite the progress, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in March that every day, roughly 1 in 25 patients contract one or more infections in a U.S. hospital, and CDC Director Tom Frieden says that over 200 Americans die during their hospital stay on account of healthcare-associated infections. Frieden added that even the most advanced healthcare technologies are obsolete if clinicians and healthcare workers fail to follow basic safety protocol and hygiene guidelines. The problem appears to be spread across multiple facilities nationwide, as opposed to a few isolated facilities. Data collected from 183 facilities in 2011 showed roughly 721,800 hospital-acquired infections in about 648,000 patients, resulting in approximately 75,000 deaths.

The CDC also reports that two of the most common infections acquired in hospitals are E. coli and Klebsiella, both of which have become increasingly resistant to last-resort antibiotics. Klebsiella accounted for about 10 percent of healthcare-associated infections and E. coli accounted for about 9 percent. A second CDC report showed a decrease in central line-associated bloodstream infections from 2008-12 and a 20 percent decrease in surgical procedure-related infections during the same period.

By Sree Aatmaa Khalsa

Sources:

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