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HHS launches national patient safety campaign

April 12, 2011

HHS Announces National Campaign to Improve Patient Safety

Consumer Reports Poll Shows High Levels of Public Concern About Medical Harm
& Support For Requiring Hospitals to Disclose Errors

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Department of Health and Human Services announced an initiative today to improve patient safety in hospitals across the country. The “Partnership for Patients” is a collaborative effort between the federal government, hospitals, care providers, and community organizations that aims to reduce hospital acquired conditions and readmissions caused by bad care.
The initiative represents an important effort to make patient safety a priority and sets goals to reduce medical harm, according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publishers of Consumer Reports. But the group noted that more emphasis is needed on holding individual hospitals accountable for reducing medical harm through 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 (www.safepatientproject.org). “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.”
Consumers Union recently released the results of a new national poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center that found high levels of public concern about medical errors. The poll found that 77 percent of respondents expressed high or moderate concern that they or someone in their family might be harmed by a hospital infection during treatment in the hospital. Seventy-one percent expressed high or moderate concern about being harmed by a medication error, and 65 percent were similarly concerned about surgical errors.
Only 17 percent of respondents indicated that they thought their doctor or other hospital staff would always inform them when a medical error was made during treatment even though 97 percent always wanted to be informed. Forty-seven percent said that they expected to be informed rarely or never when medical errors occurred.
Virtually all consumers — 96 percent — said that hospitals should be required to report medical errors to state health departments, and 82 percent wanted each hospital’s medical error record to be available to the public.
Recent research has found that hospital infections and other medical harm are even more common than previously estimated. A November 2010 study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General found that one in seven Medicare patients or 13.5 percent experienced serious or long term medical harm (including infections) or death while they underwent treatment in the hospital. Another 13 percent of patients experienced temporary harm. The researchers estimated that hospital infections and medical errors involving Medicare patients contributed to approximately 180,000 deaths and $4.4 billion in additional hospital care costs each year.
Separately, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that nearly two million Americans suffer from hospital acquired infections every year. These infections result in as much as $45 billion in extra hospital care. Patients who develop hospital infections and other complications often require longer stays in the hospital or end up being readmitted for further treatments. Almost one in five Medicare patients who are discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days.
Likewise, a November 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study in North Carolina hospitals found that one in four patients were harmed by the care they received, ranging from hospital acquired infections, surgical errors, and medication dosage mistakes. Other medical errors include serious bed sores, patient falls in the hospital from inattentive care, and diagnostic mistakes. The study, which covered a six-year period, found no significant improvement in patient safety.
Another report issued by Health Affairs last week indicated that as many as 90 percent of hospital mistakes were overlooked. Under the national initiative, hospitals participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs will be required to meet certain patient safety standards and efforts to reduce patient harm will be emphasized in the certification process.
The Partnership for Patients seeks to reduce hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent by the end of 2013 compared to 2010. It aims to reduce preventable complications so that all hospital readmissions are reduced by 20 percent by the end of 2013 compared to 2010. Under the Partnership, the federal government will provide resources to encourage hospitals to implement strategies to improve patient safety and partner with the private sector on using incentives to enhance the quality and safety of care.
“Too many lives have been lost because hospitals have failed to consistently follow procedures we know will keep patients safe,” said McGiffert. “This new national strategy establishes a plan for improving care and saving precious lives and healthcare dollars. Consumers Union will work with its network of activists across the country to monitor the implementation of this initiative to ensure that it leads to measurable change.”
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,026 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place over January 28-31, 2011. The sampling error is +/- 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.
Michael McCauley (mccami@consumer.org), 415-431-6747, ext 126 or Lisa McGiffert (lmcgiffert@consumer.org), 512-477-4431, ext 115