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American Hospital Association

Washington, DC
April 12, 2011

Thank you, Rich, for that introduction. And thank you for your great leadership when it comes to improving health care for all Americans.

There is no doubt that America has the world’s most skilled doctors and nurses and the finest hospitals. Every day, countless Americans receive care that is as good or better than any in the world. People travel to our shores from across the globe to get treatment at our facilities they can’t get anywhere else. But as you know, far too often, for far too many patients, we fall short of that high standard.

Just last week, new research found that nearly one in three patients who are admitted to hospitals are injured by care. And the price we pay is not just in worse health, but in higher costs.

The good news is that across the country, America’s hospitals are showing that we can do better. In February, I visited Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle. They’ve studied the world’s best manufacturers to learn how to deliver more consistent care. In the process, they’ve reduced patient falls by 25 percent and bed sores by 75 percent.

In March, I visited with hospital, community, and business leaders in Ohio who have formed a partnership to improve care. Today, they’ve prevented 3,600 infections and medicine complications for Ohio children, while already saving $13 million in reduced health care costs.

We’ve also seen these results successfully brought to scale. In Michigan, a coalition of hospitals was able to reduce the occurrence of a common infection by two thirds, cut health care costs by $200 million, and save 1,500 lives in 18 months just by using a checklist that reminded providers to take simple steps like washing their hands.

We know we can do better because hospitals are already doing it. Yet we also know that despite health care providers’ unquestionable commitment to providing safe care, many of these proven models have been too slow to spread. So from my first days in office, our department has asked: what can we do to help doctors and nurses deliver better care?

This question led us to develop our first-ever action plan on health care-associated infections and to provide new resources to help hospitals across the country build on the success they’ve had in Michigan.

It led us to make a historic investment to help and encourage doctors and hospitals to adopt electronic health records and use them to reduce errors, cut paperwork, and measure and improve the quality of care. Already, more than four out of five hospitals say they will apply for new Health IT incentive payments.

And it has guided our implementation of the health care law. As you heard yesterday from Don, this law is not just about improving Americans’ insurance choices.

It also contains a wide range of reforms that will not only support the efforts of doctors and nurses to improve care, but will also put more information in the hands of Americans so they can make better health care choices.

Earlier today, we announced the latest step we’re taking in our department to promote better care. The new Partnership for Patients will bring together hospitals, physicians, nurses, employers, unions, patient advocates, health plans and others with the shared goal of improving the safety of health care in America.

And I’m pleased, though not surprised, that the American Hospital Association was one of the first partners to sign on, along with many of you in this room.

The ultimate goal of this partnership is the same one shared with me by a doctor I spoke to recently from Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. He told me that they did not strive to reduce harmful errors for the children they treat by 20 percent, or 40 percent. Their goal was to eliminate these errors altogether.

That’s our goal too. And to get started, we’ve set two ambitious targets for the next three years.

First, we will reduce preventable injuries that happen in hospitals by 40 percent, preventing 1.8 million injuries and saving 60,000 lives.

Second, we will cut preventable hospital readmissions by 20 percent, saving more than 1.6 million patients from complications that force them to return to the hospital.

And by keeping patients healthier and reducing unnecessary care, it’s estimated that reaching these targets will save up to $35 billion across our health care system over three years, including up to $10 billion for Medicare. Over ten years, the reduction in Medicare costs could be around $50 billion.

So I wanted to come here today first to thank those of you who have already pledged your support. More than 500 hospitals have already signed on.

What we hope this partnership will do is unify our efforts to improve patient safety. Rather than hospitals pursuing one quality strategy, employers pursuing another, and government pursuing a third, we want to make sure we are all working together to make sure every American gets the best care no matter what hospital they walk into.

That’s why we also announced today that we will commit up to $1 billion in new funding from the Affordable Care Act to help achieve these goals. In addition, we are making a wide range of resources available to help you learn about what other hospitals and health systems across the country are doing to improve patient safety.

We know that improving care is not easy. But as innovative hospitals are demonstrating every day, it can be done. And the potential benefits – for patients, for the health of our country, for the budgets of families, businesses, and governments, and for your bottom line – are enormous.

So in addition to thanking all of you who have already joined the partnership, I also want to encourage all those who haven’t to go to our website to sign on.

America has the best hospitals in the world and many of your patients receive the best care in the world. But there’s no reason it shouldn’t be all of your patients.

So I encourage you to join us. It’s going to take work. It’s going to be an ongoing process. There’s going to be some bumps along the way. But I’m confident that working together, we can reduce harmful errors in our health care system.

Ultimately, our safety goals should be the same goals that airlines have. They don’t accept a certain number of crashes each year. They don’t say, “It’s okay, only two percent of our planes crashed this year.” Their goal is no crashes.

And they haven’t progressed towards that goal by telling their employees to do better. They’ve done it with better systems – by improving the design of planes, and increasing preventive maintenance, promoting teamwork, and with other reforms.

This partnership and the other reforms we have enacted over the last two years will help us do the same for health care. We have the hardest working doctors and nurses in the world. We have the most advanced hospitals. There’s no reason we shouldn’t also have the safest care.

And now to talk more about this new partnership, I want to turn it over to someone you heard from yesterday and many of you have worked with for years.

Don is not just a leading expert on bringing together coalitions to improve care. He is the leading expert. And we feel very lucky to have one of our best advocates for patients in a position where he can make such a big difference.

When it comes to patient safety, he has been both a visionary in imagining a world without medical errors and a master of identifying and helping to remove the practical obstacles standing in the way. And there’s no one I’d rather have spearheading this initiative.

It’s my pleasure to introduce Dr. Don Berwick…