Independent Analysis Shows Avoidable Hospital Deaths Remain High

Nonprofit group issues safety score update

The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., has announced its Spring 2016 Hospital Safety Score update, assigning letter grades to more than 2,500 U.S. hospitals, assessing medical errors, accidents, injuries, and infections. Along with the update, Leapfrog contracted with Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality on a new report estimating the number of avoidable deaths at hospitals in each grade level.

Using 30 evidence-based measures of patient safety, the Leapfrog Group calculates a numerical safety score for all eligible hospitals in the U.S. This score is then converted into one of five letter grades. “A” represents the best Hospital Safety Score, followed in order by B, C, D, and F.

The new analysis found that despite considerable improvement in the safety of hospital care since the score’s launch in 2012, avoidable deaths remain high. Findings point to a 9% higher risk of avoidable death in B hospitals, a 35% higher risk in C hospitals, and a 50% higher risk in D and F hospitals than in A hospitals.

In total, the analysis showed that an estimated 206,021 avoidable deaths occur in U.S. hospitals each year––a figure described as an underestimate since the analysis accounted only for a subset of avoidable harms that patients may encounter in hospital settings. Of the 206,021 avoidable deaths that occur in all hospitals, 162,117 (79%) occur in B, C, D, and F hospitals. The analysis concluded that an estimated 33,439 lives could be saved each year if all hospitals had the same performance as those receiving an A.

The April 2016 update highlights newly added patient-experience measures shown in the research to have a relationship to improved patient safety outcomes. These include results of patient surveys regarding communication about medicines, communication about discharge, nurse communication, doctor communication, and the responsiveness of hospital staff. In addition, for the first time, the score includes two new infection measures, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteremia and Clostridium difficile infection.

“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 at 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.”

The report’s highlights include the following findings:

  • Of the 2,571 hospitals issued a Hospital Safety Score, 798 earned an A; 639 earned a B; 957 earned a C; 162 earned a D; and 15 earned an F.
  • In addition, 153 hospitals earned the “Straight A” rating, which calls attention to hospitals that have consistently received an A grade for safety during the last three years of Hospital Safety Scores.
  • Maine, which has had the highest percentage of A hospitals for the last four rounds of the score, dipped to second behind Vermont, where 83% of its hospitals achieved an A. This is the first time Vermont has claimed the number one spot.
  • In contrast, for the third year, no hospitals in the District of Columbia received an A grade. Similarly, Arkansas and Wyoming had no hospitals with an A grade.

Sources: Leapfrog Group; April 25, 2016; and Hospital Safety Score Grades; April 2016.