National patient safety efforts save 87,000 lives


A report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week shows that thanks in part to provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), an estimated 87,000 fewer patients died in hospitals from 2010 to 2014.

It also found that nearly $20 billion in health care costs were saved as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014.

Preliminary estimates show that, in total, hospital patients experienced 2.1 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014, a 17 percent decline over that period. This aligns with HHS' aim to encourage better care, smarter spending, and healthier people.

This week’s announcement builds on results previously achieved and reported in December 2014, which showed 50,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and $12 billion in health care costs saved between 2010 and 2013.

This progress toward a safer health care system occurred during a period of concerted attention by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events as part of the ACA, including Medicare payment incentives to improve the quality of care and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative.

"Patients in America's hospitals are safer today as a result of this partnership with hospitals and health care providers," said HHS secretary Sylvia Burwell. "The Affordable Care Act has given us tools to build a better health care system that protects patients, improves quality, and makes the most of our health care dollars."

This week’s report reflects demonstrable progress over a four-year period to improve patient safety in the hospital setting. As these improvements hold steady, their impact is accumulating over time.

Hospital-acquired conditions include adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line associated bloodstream infections, pressure ulcers, and surgical site infections, among others. HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) analyzed the incidence of a number of avoidable hospital-acquired conditions compared to 2010 rates, using as a baseline estimates of deaths and excess health care costs that were developed when the Partnership for Patients was launched.

"Hospitals work diligently every day to provide the best possible care for the patients they serve. These new numbers are impressive and show the great progress hospitals continue to make," said Rick Pollack, president and chief executive officer of the American Hospital Association.

These major strides in patient safety are a result of strong, diverse public-private partnerships and active engagement by patients and families, said AHRQ.

These efforts include the federal Partnership for Patients initiative, Hospital Engagement Networks, Quality Improvement Organizations, and many other public and private partners. 

In 2011, HHS launched the Partnership for Patients, which targets a specific set of hospital-acquired conditions for reductions via systematic quality improvement work. Public and private partners – including hospitals and other health care providers – are working collaboratively to identify and spread best practices and apply these solutions to reduce hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions.

Dr Patrick Conway, deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said: "These results demonstrate that it's possible to improve national patient safety performance resulting in millions of people avoiding infections and adverse events. As a practicing physician, I know the importance of safety culture and care teams focused on keeping every patient as safe as possible.

"AHRQ developed the measurement strategy, the evidence base, and many of the tools that hospitals are using to achieve these results.

Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, US, ACA, Sylvia Burwell