Hospital Safety is Improving: The Reduction in Healthcare-Acquired Conditions

Improving patient safety has remained on the national agenda for over a decade, and there appears to be no single process, set of standards, or program that will keep it from remaining there indefinitely. Over recent years, the media has recounted innumerable stories of patients erroneously undergoing the wrong procedure, being misidentified in the operating room, and leaving the hospital with more problems than when they arrived. In fact, the CDC reports that one in 25 hospital patients acquires at least one infection during a hospital stay.

However, enormous efforts are being made to improve patient safety, and recent surveys show signs that hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) are decreasing nationwide. The most recent report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) states that approximately 87,000 fewer patients died from HACs between 2011 and 2014.

In the past ten years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has led several initiatives to reduce HACs, and a recent program launch that penalizes hospitals with high rates of HACs seems to be advancing hospital improvements and patient safety.

Indications of Improving Patient Safety

Recent AHRQ Data Shows Stabilizing Rates of HACs

The Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999 requires that an annual report addressing the quality of healthcare and disparities in healthcare is submitted to Congress. These reports, National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Reports (QDR), are produced by an interagency group led by AHRQ and include recent findings on patient safety. The most recent National Healthcare QDR cites that measures of patient safety improved, with a 17 percent reduction in HACs. AHRQ states that “the general trend in patient safety is one of improvement” and recognizes the efforts by interagency alliances, federal agencies, and practitioners to prioritize the reduction of HACs.

In December 2015, AHRQ released its most recent report including annual rates of HACs and estimates of cost savings and deaths averted from 2010-2013. Included are preliminary estimates for 2014, which show a sustained 17 percent decrease in HACs since 2010. The report estimates that in the period from 2010-2014 a total of 2.1 million fewer HACs were experienced, and in the period between 2011-2014 approximately 87,000 fewer deaths occurred and almost $20 billion in healthcare costs were saved.

AHRQ concludes that much of this progress resulted from their investments in research, tools, trainings, data, and measures to track changes. They also emphasize the value of the widespread use of electronic health records and other likely causes of the improvements, such as “financial incentives created by CMS and other payers’ payment policies, public reporting of hospital-level results, technical assistance offered by the QIO program to hospitals, and technical assistance and catalytic efforts of the HHS PfP initiative led by CMS.” 

These initiatives to encourage hospitals to make advances in reducing HACs are resulting in improved patient safety across the country. The combined efforts of dedicated practitioners with hospitals and federal agencies can be evidenced in the declining numbers of HACs and increasing hospital performance measures. Agencies, hospitals, and patients alike have reason to hope that these developments are indicative of an overall trend towards improvement in patient safety.

This blog post excerpts an article in the Q3 2016 issue of Provider Advisor. Complete the form below to download the issue.

April 1, 2021