By Kathleen Sebelius AND JOHN W. BLUFORD
The Kansas City Star
September 29, 2011
Over the years, leaders in industry have learned that doing something right often costs less than doing it wrong. Today we’ll come together in Kansas City to talk about how applying that same principle in health care can protect lives and help us spend our health care dollars more wisely.
America has the world’s most skilled doctors and nurses and its finest hospitals. Every day, many Americans receive care as good or better than any in the world. But too often, we fall short of that high standard.
A recent study found that as many as one out of three hospital patients are harmed by the care they receive. And more than a fifth of chronically ill adults report a serious error in their care over the course of a hospital stay.
Imagine a loved one who is admitted to the hospital for a routine surgery. The surgery goes well, but in the recovery, the stitches become infected or an allergic reaction develops to a medication the person wasn’t supposed to get. A preventable complication like this can result in longer hospital stays, long-term injuries or disability, or even death.
And 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 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. Small mistakes, poor communication between providers or missing information, can cause a dangerous medical error.
The good news is that hospitals across the country are showing that delivering better care is possible.
For example, in 2007, Truman Medical Centers (TMC) of Kansas City built its world-class Cardiovascular Center, which has dramatically improved the heart health of their patients. But as TMC began to follow its heart attack patients, it discovered barriers to the rehabilitation these patients needed to get well after care. So TMC decided to build a state-of-the art cardiac rehabilitation facility steps from the Cardiology Center. Now the TMC cardiology team has regular face-to-face contact with patients during treatment and rehabilitation and can stop complications before they start. As a result of this action, the patients’ cardiac rehabilitation rate is double the national benchmark.
We see pockets of excellence around the country. Yet, far too many Americans still go without the best care.
That’s why the Obama administration has joined with Truman Medical Centers and more than 2,500 other hospitals nationwide, along with thousands of employers, health insurers, provider organizations and patient advocates, to launch the 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 re-admissions 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 re-admissions also 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 — with similar increases threatening the budgets of states, businesses, and families — we have to start bringing down health care costs now.
There are two ways to do that: providing less care or providing better care. Truman Medical Centers chose the second option, and its patients and their families are already experiencing the benefits.
Soon, Partnership for Patients will help thousands of communities make the same choice. Together, we are demanding a health care system in which every single American gets the best possible care.
Kathleen Sebelius is U.S secretary of health and human services. John W. Bluford is president/CEO of Truman Medical Centers.