By Kathleen Sebelius and Dave McRae
May 22, 2011
Over the years, leaders in industry have learned that doing something right often costs less than doing it wrong. Tomorrow we'll come together in Greenville to talk about how applying that same principle in health care can protect lives and save billions of dollars.
There is no doubt that America has the world's most skilled doctors and nurses and its finest hospitals. Every day, many Americans receive care that is as good as or better than any in the world. But far too often, we fall short of that high standard.
A recent study found that as many as one out of three hospital patients is harmed by the care he receives. And more than a fifth of chronically ill adults report a “serious error” in their care over the course of a hospital stay.
These mistakes don't just cause pain and anguish. They also add to skyrocketing health insurance bills for families, businesses and government at every level.
We know that these errors are not the result of a careless workforce. Health-care professionals want to offer good care. But good people get trapped in flawed systems.
The good news is that hospitals across the country are showing that delivering better care is possible.
In the last two years, for example, University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina has cut the likelihood that one of its patients will get a hospital-acquired infection in half by following best practices, setting targets for improvement, increasing the transparency of outcomes data, and making patients and their families active partners in care. And thanks to the leadership of the North Carolina Hospital Association and others, there are success stories like this one across the state.
We can see these pockets of excellence around the country. And yet, far too many Americans still go without the best care.
That's why the Obama administration has joined with University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and more than 1,500 other hospitals nationwide, along with hundreds of employers, health insurers, provider organizations and patient advocates, to launch Partnership for Patients, an unprecedented alliance that will promote innovations to improve hospital care and reduce wasteful spending.
We've never had so many high-level partners join together to promote patient safety. And to get started, we are setting two ambitious goals.
Over the next three years, we will reduce preventable injuries in hospitals by 40 percent. And we will cut hospital readmissions by 20 percent, targeting the return trips that should never have occurred. Achieving these goals could save as many as 60,000 lives and protect more than 1.6 million patients from complications that would put them back in the hospital.
If we succeed, countless Americans will have more healthy years to share with their loved ones. But there's another advantage. Reducing preventable errors and unnecessary hospital readmissions has the potential to save as much as $50 billion over 10 years for Medicare alone. At a time when Medicare costs are expected to rise steeply over the next decade we have to start bringing down health care costs now.
There are two ways to do that: providing less care or providing better care. University Health Systems chose the second option, and its patients and their families are already beginning to see the benefits.
In the coming months and years, the Partnership for Patients will help thousands of communities make the same choice. Together, we are sending a clear message that we will only accept a health care system in which every single American gets the best possible care.
Kathleen Sebelius is secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dave McRae is CEO of University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina.