Patient Safety Efforts Result in Sharp Decline in Hospital Errors

Efforts to improve patient safety in hospitals are paying off: there were 1.3 million fewer adverse events harming patients in 2011, 2012, and 2013, according to a new report from HHS.

Efforts to improve patient safety in hospitals are paying off: there were 1.3 million fewer adverse events harming patients in 2011, 2012, and 2013, according to a new report from HHS.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released data from 2010 to 2013 that found a 17% decline in hospital-acquired conditions (HACs). With approximately 50,000 fewer patients dying in the hospital as a result of HAC reduction, the industry saved roughly $12 billion in healthcare costs.

“Prevention of approximately 50,000 deaths in the 2011 to 2013 period as a result of the decline in HACs, with almost 35,000 of these deaths averted in 2013 alone, is a remarkable achievement,” AHRQ wrote.

Although the reasons for the decreased rate of adverse events is not fully understood, AHRQ attributed the progress, in part, to financial incentives from CMS and other payers, public reporting of hospital-level results, and technical assistance offered to hospitals.

“Despite the tremendous progress to date in reducing HACs, much work remains to be done to ensure that the U.S. health care system is as safe as it can possibly be,” AHRQ wrote in the report.

Declines in adverse drug events and pressure ulcers had the largest effects on estimates of deaths averted and cost savings, according to the report. Adverse drug events have an excess mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1000 and excess costs of $5000 per case, while pressure ulcers are associated with an excess mortality rate of 72 deaths per 1000 and excess costs of $17,000 per case.

Most of the improvement in HACs came in 2012 and 2013 and approximately 40% of the reduction in HACs came from adverse drug events, 20% from pressure ulcers, and 14% from catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

“HHS and other public and private partners are continuing to work to improve hospital safety,” the report concluded. “These latest data indicate that it is possible to make substantial progress in reducing virtually all types of HACs simultaneously.”