News & Commentary

HHS: Hospital Care Much Safer Now


Prevention of adverse drug events, pressure ulcers, and other hospital-acquired conditions saved more than 50,000 American lives from 2011 through 2013, according to a report from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Prevention of adverse drug events accounted for more than 20,000 of the deaths averted, about 40% of the total, the HHS report says. Prevention of pressure ulcers was the second most important effort, accounting for 11,500 deaths averted, about 20% of the total.

Other hospital-acquired conditions include catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line–associated bloodstream infections, surgical site infections, and falls.

The department’s Agency for Health care Research and Quality (AHRQ) calculated the deaths averted by using 2010 numbers for the acquired conditions as a baseline.

Safer hospitals also save money: HHS estimates that the decrease in the hospital-acquired conditions snipped $12 billion off the nation’s health care bill. The largest single money saver was avoidance of pressure ulcers, which HHS figured was worth a total of $4.76 billion based on a figure of $17,000 per pressure ulcer.

The safety numbers are part of the Partnership for Patients (PfP), a private–public project that enrolled more than 3,700 acute care hospitals, which account for most of the nation’s acute care discharges. HHS released the hospital safety data in early December 2014.

The department offered several possible explanations for the safety gains: financial incentives created by CMS and other payers’ payment policies, public reporting of hospital-level results, technical assistance offered by [CMS’s Quality Improvement Organization program] to hospitals, and technical assistance and catalytic efforts by the PfP program.

The department sounded a note of caution, though, pointing out that despite the improvements, almost 10% of hospitalized patients in 2013 experienced one or more hospital-acquired conditions.

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