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Fewer mistakes at U.S. hospitals save 50,000 lives and $12 billion

Holly Waller, LRN, removes protective gear Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, N.C. All hospital staff take protective measures to keep staff and patients safe, as more attention is focused on diseases like Ebola.
Holly Waller, LRN, removes protective gear Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, at Lenoir Memorial Hospital in Kinston, N.C. All hospital staff take protective measures to keep staff and patients safe, as more attention is focused on diseases like Ebola. AP

- Improved patient safety and fewer mistakes at U.S. hospitals saved the lives of roughly 50,000 people from 2010 to 2013, the Obama administration reported on Tuesday.

Incidents of hospital-induced harm, like adverse drug events, infections, falls and bed sores, fell by 17 percent or an estimated 1.3 million episodes over the three-year period.

The improvements, possibly driven by a number of public and private initiatives, saved an estimated $12 billion in health care spending, according to a new government report that found dramatic progress in the fight to curb preventable medical injuries at U.S. hospitals.

Of the estimated 50,000 fewer deaths, a decline in bed sores, or pressure ulcers, helped save an estimated 20,300 lives. A drop in adverse drug events – like overdoses and administering the wrong medication - likely saved another 11,500 lives.

Fewer patient falls are credited with saving 6,400 lives, the study found.

Hospital-induced harm to patients has been a black cloud over the U.S. health care system for decades.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two million people each year suffer hospital-acquired infections, like bloodstream and urinary tract infections from catheters.

In 2010, the government estimated that 27 percent of hospitalized Medicare patients sustained injuries associated with their care. Half of these patients had one or more episodes that either prolonged their hospital stay, caused permanent harm, required a life-saving intervention or resulted in death, HHS investigators found.

About half of the incidents were preventable.

The Institute of Medicine estimated in 1999 that 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year due to medical problems that could have been averted.

But a report published last year in the Journal of Patient Safety said the actual number of deaths is much larger. It estimated that 210,000 to 440,000 U.S. hospital patients experience a preventable medical episode each year that contributes to their death.

Those numbers would put medical errors behind only heart disease and cancer as the leading cause of death in the U.S., according to CDC data.

These findings helped spur HHS, health care providers and a variety of public-private efforts to identify and use best practices that reduce hospital-acquired medical conditions.

From 2008 to 2012, bloodstream infections associated with central line catheters dropped 44 percent, while some surgical site infections dropped as much as 20 percent, according to the CDC.

Affordable Care Act provisions that provide incentives for hospitals to cut readmissions among Medicare patients also appear to be working.

Readmission rates for Medicare beneficiaries fell 8 percent between January 2012 and December 2013, resulting in 150,000 fewer hospitalizations, according to HHS.

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