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Report: Safety Measures Saved Thousands of Lives

In a recent report, the Obama administration championed the efforts of public and private collaborations that have succeeded in significantly reducing hospital malpractice rates. The report indicated that, thanks to these efforts, about 50,000 lives are estimated to have been saved between 2011 and 2013.

Furthermore, improving patient safety at hospitals across the nation has led to a savings in healthcare spending of about $12 billion. It is believed that improved protocols in preventing bedsores, or pressure ulcers, has helped save about 20,300 lives over that time period, while prevention of drug errors such as overdosing has saved about 11,500 lives. Falls within the hospital are another common cause of injury and deaths. The report estimates that reduced falls in hospitals over the last few years has saved about 6,400 lives.

Public and private initiatives

In a statement earlier in December, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell praised the findings of the new HHS report. She noted that the report signified a “historic progress on health care quality.” The report evaluated data from 18,000 to 33,000 medical records for each year. Researchers found that about 10 percent of patients who are hospitalized in the U.S. suffer from one or more forms of hospital malpractice or hospital-acquired conditions. This figure represents a 17-percent reduction in incident rates.

The decline in hospital malpractice is largely thanks to public and private collaborations across numerous agencies and organizations. The report cites a “concerted effort by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events,” which was encouraged by payment incentives from Medicare and facilitated by the HHS Partnership for Patients (PfP) initiative. The PfP is a public-private partnership that has founded a national learning network and set clear aims for reducing adverse event rates. It has enrolled thousands of acute care hospitals across the country and those facilities have actively participated in patient safety improvement initiatives.

Thousands still die every year from hospital malpractice

Although the decline in hospital malpractice is significant and is certainly cause for celebration, even one death from a preventable medical error is one too many. The HHS report acknowledged this, noting that efforts were needed to drive rates of medical malpractice down further. Medical errors have long been a significant area of concern for patient safety advocates. Thousands of patients still suffer from preventable injuries and deaths within hospitals.

In 1999, it was estimated that about 98,000 people lost their lives due to preventable medical errors. However, others have said that this estimate is too low, noting that hospital-acquired conditions can contribute to later deaths. An article in the Journal of Patient Safety suggests the total number of deaths each year could be as high as 210,000 to 440,000.

There is a wide range of hospital-acquired conditions that affect patients. About two million patients each year are believed to suffer from hospital-acquired infections. These include sepsis and urinary tract infections, the latter of which is a common complication of catheter placement. Other infections involve surgical sites and central line catheters. Additional preventable medical errors include prescribing the wrong medication, prescribing the wrong dose of medication, and failing to properly position patients so as to prevent bedsores.

  1., Fewer hospital mistakes mean 50,000 lives, $12 billion saved,

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Efforts To Improve Patient Safety Result in 1.3 Million Fewer Patient Harms,