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December 1, 2015
Contact: HHS Press Office

National patient safety efforts save 87,000 lives and nearly $20 billion in costs

Report shows hospital-acquired conditions decline by 17 percent over a four-year period

A report released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today shows that thanks in part to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, an estimated 87,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and nearly $20 billion in health care costs were saved as a result of a reduction in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014. Preliminary estimates show that, in total, hospital patients experienced 2.1 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014, a 17 percent decline over that period. This aligns with HHS’ aim to encourage better care, smarter spending, and healthier people.

Today’s announcement builds on results previously achieved and reported in December 2014, which showed 50,000 fewer patients died in hospitals and $12 billion in health care costs saved between 2010 and 2013. This progress toward a safer health care system occurred during a period of concerted attention by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events as part of the ACA, including Medicare payment incentives to improve the quality of care and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative. 

“Patients in America’s hospitals are safer today as a result of this partnership with hospitals and health care providers,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “The Affordable Care Act has given us tools to build a better health care system that protects patients, improves quality, and makes the most of our health care dollars.”

Today’s data represent demonstrable progress over a four-year period to improve patient safety in the hospital setting. As these improvements hold steady, their impact is accumulating over time as evidenced by today’s reported four-year totals.

Hospital-acquired conditions include adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line associated bloodstream infections, pressure ulcers, and surgical site infections, among others. HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) analyzed the incidence of a number of avoidable hospital-acquired conditions compared to 2010 rates, using as a baseline estimates of deaths and excess health care costs that were developed when the Partnership for Patients was launched.  

“Hospitals work diligently every day to provide the best possible care for the patients they serve. These new numbers are impressive and show the great progress hospitals continue to make,” said Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. “While there is always more work to be done to improve patient safety, the collaborative efforts of hospitals and HHS have delivered great results that will continue to help the field on the quality improvement journey.”

These major strides in patient safety are a result of strong, diverse public-private partnerships and active engagement by patients and families. These efforts include the federal Partnership for Patients initiative, Hospital Engagement Networks, Quality Improvement Organizations, and many other public and private partners.  In 2011, HHS launched the Partnership for Patients, which targets a specific set of hospital-acquired conditions for reductions via systematic quality improvement work. Public and private partners – including hospitals and other health care providers – are working collaboratively to identify and spread best practices and apply these solutions to reduce hospital-acquired conditions and readmissions.

Patrick Conway, M.D., deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said, “These results demonstrate that it’s possible to improve national patient safety performance resulting in millions of people avoiding infections and adverse events. As a practicing physician, I know the importance of safety culture and care teams focused on keeping every patient as safe as possible.” 

AHRQ developed the measurement strategy, the evidence base, and many of the tools that hospitals are using to achieve these results. “AHRQ’s role in delivery system reform is providing the data to make the health care system a safer place for patients and we are working to put these resources to use on the front lines of care,” said AHRQ Director Richard Kronick, Ph.D.

AHRQ has produced a variety of tools and resources to help hospitals and other providers prevent hospital-acquired conditions, such as reducing infections, pressure ulcers, and falls. Recently the agency released the Toolkit for Reducing CAUTI in Hospitals, which is based on the experiences of more than 1,200 hospitals nationwide that participated in an AHRQ-funded project to apply the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program to reducing catheter associated urinary tract infections (CAUTI). Preliminary data indicate that hospitals using these tools reduced CAUTIs by approximately 15 percent overall. AHRQ works with its HHS colleagues and researchers across the country to create new knowledge about how to improve care, particularly in understudied areas such as diagnostic error and antibiotic resistance.

HHS will continue working with partners to capitalize on these promising results – improving patient safety and reducing health care costs while providing the best, safest possible care to patients.

The report Saving Lives & Saving Money: Hospital-Acquired Conditions Update is available here: http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/quality-patient-safety/pfp/interimhacrate2014.html.

Note: All HHS press releases, fact sheets and other news materials are available at https://www.hhs.gov/news.
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Last revised: December 1, 2015

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