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Patient Safety Improvements Could Cut Avoidable Deaths by 50%

In an analysis of patient safety ratings, researchers highlight how many deaths could be avoided if hospitals improve their patient safety efforts.

By Sara Heath

A focus on patient safety improvements could potentially reduce half of all hospital-caused deaths in low-rated hospitals, according to a recent report from the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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Following the release of the Spring 2016 Hospital Ratings from the Leapfrog Group, an analysis of the ratings showed that hospitals with the lowest scores - a D or an F - could drastically cut their mortality rates if they adopted the same patient safety practices of top rating hospitals.  

B-rated hospitals could reduce deaths by nine percent and C-rated hospitals could reduce death rates by at least 35 percent, study author Matt Austin, PhD, concluded.

In total, 206,021 avoidable deaths occur in all hospitals across the nation, the data showed.

Of the near 200,000 annual avoidable deaths, 78 percent occur in B, C, D, or F-rated hospitals. Had all of those hospitals performed at the same level as an A-rated hospital, 33,439 deaths may have been avoided.

That said, A-rated hospitals are not entirely perfect. Austin’s research shows that there is also room for these hospitals to improve their patient safety and hospital quality measures.

“Efforts to reduce patient safety events have been plentiful, and yet elimination of all preventable harms remains elusive,” Austin noted. “While hospitals with a Hospital Safety Score of ‘A’ have better performance than hospitals with lower grades, they still have significant opportunities for improvement.”

A-rated hospitals had moderate mortality rates in all patient safety subcategories, save for the hospital acquired conditions due to foreign objects retained after surgery and air embolism safety measures.

Austin and the research team noted that these estimates were slightly below actual avoidable death rates because they only included a limited number of potential causes of avoidable death.

“The measures included in this analysis reflect a subset of all potential harms that patients may encounter in U.S. hospitals, and as such, these results likely reflect an underestimation of the avoidable deaths in U.S. hospitals,” Austin explained.

The analysis also excluded deaths due to other causes that may be equally important to patient safety and hospital quality.

That all said, the proportions of avoidable deaths compared to A-rated hospitals are likely accurate because the low estimates are consistent across all hospital ratings.

Austin and the team at the Armstrong Institute were commissioned for this project as a part of the 2016 Hospital Safety Score update from the Leapfrog Group.

This year, 798 (31 percent) hospitals received an A rating, 639 (25 percent) received B ratings, 957 (37 percent) received C ratings, 162 (6 percent) received D ratings, and 15 (0.5 percent) received F ratings.

Several hospitals showed that they are consistent in providing quality healthcare with high levels of patient safety. Over 100 hospitals received their third A rating in a row, showing that they have excelled in patient safety for the past three years.

The Hospital Safety Scores also highlighted certain states where patient safety is nearly universally achieved. In Maine, the state with the second highest number of A ratings, 83 percent of its hospitals received an A rating. Vermont had the highest rate of A ratings.

Other states did not perform as well. The District of Columbia had zero hospitals receive an A rating for the third year in a row, as did Wyoming and Arkansas.

According to representatives from the Leapfrog Group, these rating systems are all about promoting healthcare transparency to the consumer.

“It is time for every hospital in America to put patient safety at the top of their priority list, because tens of thousands of lives are stake,” said Leah Binder, President and CEO of The Leapfrog Group. “The Hospital Safety Score alerts consumers to the dangers, but as this analysis shows, even A hospitals are not perfectly safe.”

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