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HHS: Patient Safety Efforts Save 125K Lives, $28B in Spending

Recent patient safety programs have produced a 21 percent decrease in hospital-acquired conditions between 2010 and 2015.

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) are down and patient safety is continuing its steady rise as healthcare organizations keep pushing forward with quality improvement programs, many of which originated with the Affordable Care Act.

Patient safety and hospital acquired infections

From 2010 to 2015, approximately 125,000 fewer patients died due to avoidable hospital-acquired conditions, and the healthcare system saved more than $28 billion in healthcare costs, HHS said in a press release.

The continued decline in hospital-acquired conditions has contributed to a 21 percent decline in adverse events over the time period, said HHS and the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (AHRQ).

Patients experienced 3.1 million fewer negative safety events in the first five years of the decade than they would have if 2010 rates had held steady.

“These achievements demonstrate the commitment across many public and private organizations and frontline clinicians to improve the quality of care received by patients across the county,” said Patrick Conway, MD, deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer at CMS.  

“It is important to remember that numbers like 125,000 lives saved or over 3 million infections and adverse events avoided represent real value for people across the nation who received high quality care and were protected from suffering a terrible outcome.”

“It is a testament to what can be accomplished when people commit to working towards a common goal.  We will continue our efforts to improve patient safety across the nation on behalf of the patients, families, and caregivers we serve.”

As providers start accepting the transition to value-based care, which promotes quality over quantity, CMS has been paying close attention to developing quality measurement and financial penalty programs intended to reduce the incidence of hospital-acquired conditions. 

HACs typically include catheter-associated infections, central line infections, surgical site infections, adverse drug events, and pressure ulcers.

In 2015, close to a quarter of the 3308 hospitals participating in the Hospital Acquired Conditions (HACs) Reduction Program received a small cut to their Medicare reimbursements, which has produced an estimated savings of $364 million for Medicare in Fiscal Year 2016.

CMS also recently proposed new standards for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement that prioritize patient safety, and would require all hospitals develop infection control programs and report on key patient safety data in order to remain eligible for participation in public insurance payment programs.

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell thanked the Affordable Care Act for allowing her department to utilize these combinations of policy and financial levers to incent healthcare organizations to raise quality while cutting overall spending.

“The Affordable Care Act gave us tools to build a better health care system that protects patients, improves quality, and makes the most of our health care dollars and those tools are generating results,” Burwell said.

“Today’s report shows us hundreds of thousands of Americans have been spared from deadly hospital acquired conditions, resulting in thousands of lives saved and billions of dollars saved.”

Preliminary estimates for 2015 show 115 HACs per 1000 patient discharges, says the AHRQ, compared to 121 HACs per 1000 patients in 2013 and 2014.  AHRQ estimates that patients experienced approximately 980,000 fewer incidences of harm in 2015 than they would have if the HAC rates of 2010 had continued.

Providers made the most gains in reducing adverse drug events, which dropped by 42.3 percent over 2011 levels.  Pressure ulcers declined by 23.2 percent, while patients experienced 15.2 percent fewer catheter-associated infections.

“AHRQ has been building a foundation of patient safety research for the last decade and a half at the request of Congress,” said AHRQ director Andy Bindman, MD. "Now we’re seeing these investments continue to pay off in terms of lives saved, harm avoided, and safer care delivery overall. We’re gratified by the progress, and we look forward to building on this work to help make patient care even safer as the work continues."

Jay Bhatt, DO, Chief Medical Officer of the American Hospital Association, congratulated the organization’s membership on its achievements thus far, but urged providers to continue working towards an incident-free care environment. 

“Hospitals and health systems, along with their frontline clinicians, can take great pride in this progress," he said. "Not only have they saved lives, but they’ve also developed tremendous capacity to tackle safety challenges – a foundation that will help them get to zero incidents."


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