April 12th, 2011
03:03 PM ET
Tens of thousand of lives and millions of dollars in health care costs can be saved, by taking steps to reduce medical errors. That's what health officials say will happen by implementing a new initiative announced by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
According to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "Partnership for Patients" will save 60,000 lives over the next three years by reducing millions of preventable hospital related complications and injuries. Sebelius says the new partnership will also save about $35 billion in health care costs including $10 billion in Medicare savings.
"Americans go to the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents," said Sebelius. "Working closely with hospitals, doctors, nurses, patients, families and employers, we will support efforts to help keep patients safe, improve care, and reduce costs. Working together, we can help eliminate preventable harm to patients."
The agency will invest up to $1 billion in federal funding from the Affordable Care Act to launch the initiative. $500 million of that money was made available immediately and will be used to help hospitals reach two goals. The first is to prevent nine types of errors and complications such as adverse drug reactions, childbirth complications, infections at surgical sites and pressure ulcers. A number of hospitals have already demonstrated dramatic success in reducing these types of problems and will be used as models for others. The second goal is to prevent complications when moving a patient from the hospital to an outpatient setting, in an effort to reduce hospital readmissions by 20%. If these goals are achieved, more than 1.6 million patients would not need to be hospitalized again within 30 days of being discharged, according to HHS.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Innovation Center will help hospitals put improvements in place. Over the next 10 years, the initiative could reduce Medicare and Medicaid cost by more than $50 billion, according to Dr. Donald Berwick, the CMS administrator who is leading the initiative.
"With new tools provided by the Affordable Care Act, we can aggressively implement programs that will help hospitals reduce preventable errors," Berwick said. "We will provide hospitals with incentives to improve the quality of health care, and provide real assistance to medical professionals and hospitals to support their efforts to reduce harm."
Sebelius says the ultimate goal is to eliminate errors altogether. But the numbers paint a sobering picture. According to a newly released study in Health Affairs, one in three patients hospitalized suffer some sort of medical error or adverse event, and approximately one in 20 get a hospital related infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year, nearly 2 million Americans get an infection when hospitalized. More than a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine found that up to 98,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors.
American Medical Association president Dr. Cecil Wilson says the AMA's physicians will be encouraged to do everything they can to reduce adverse events and hospital readmissions. "We know that if we ensure that a patient’s primary care physician receives their discharge papers within 24 hours of their release from the hospital, the likelihood of hospital readmission will be reduced." Wilson said a portion of this funding will be used to create tools that doctor can use to help improve safety and continuity of care for patients.
America's Health Insurance Plans, another partner in this initiative, says health plans are already focusing on reducing hospital-acquired infections, dangerous drug interactions and preventable readmissions.
"We are proud that health plans have played a leadership role in bringing patient safety programs to the delivery system,"said Karen Ignagni, AHIP President and CEO. "We pledge to work together with the public sector and other stakeholders to further reduce hospital admissions and prevent hospital acquired infections."
Consumers Union, an independent group that provides health care information to consumers says it's an important initiative , but hospitals should be held accountable for medical errors by requiring mandatory public reporting of each hospital's performance.
"We've known for years that millions of Americans are unnecessarily harmed in the hospital every year from preventable infections and other medical errors," said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project. "A high-profile, coordinated, national response to our patient safety crisis is long overdue. We are encouraged that the Obama administration is making patient safety a national priority. Public reporting of each hospital's patient safety track record is the best way to measure whether this effort is successful."
HHS says more than 500 hospitals have already committed to the initiative. They also have received commitments from physicians and nurses groups including the AMA, consumer groups and employers. Berwick, says he hopes to have things up and running within the next couple of months.
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