National Patient Safety Efforts Save 125,000 Lives and Nearly $28 Billion in Costs

New report shows hospital-acquired conditions continue to decline—drop 21 percent and 3 million fewer adverse events over a five year period

Press Release Date: December 12, 2016

A report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today shows that nationwide efforts to make health care safer are paying off. Thanks in part to provisions of the Affordable Care Act, approximately 125,000 fewer patients died due to hospital-acquired conditions and more than $28 billion in health care costs were saved from 2010 through 2015.  In total, hospital patients experienced more than 3 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 through 2015, the result of a 21 percent decline in the rate of these adverse events over that period. Hospital-acquired conditions are conditions that a patient develops while in the hospital being treated for something else. The decline in their incidence aligns with a major goal of the Affordable Care Act to improve the quality of health care.

The National Scorecard on Rates of Hospital-Acquired Conditions represents demonstrable progress over a five-year period to improve patient safety in hospitals. These data, compiled and analyzed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), build on results previously achieved and reported in December 2015. Last year's data showed that 87,000 fewer patients died due to hospital-acquired conditions and $20 billion in health care costs were saved from 2010 to 2014.

"The Affordable Care Act gave us tools to build a better health care system that protects patients, improves quality, and makes the most of our health care dollars and those tools are generating results," said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. "Today’s report shows us hundreds of thousands of Americans have been spared from deadly hospital acquired conditions, resulting in thousands of lives saved and billions of dollars saved."

Many federal efforts supported this progress toward a safer health care system, including the Partnership for Patients initiative, a public-private partnership working to improve the quality, safety and affordability of health care. HHS launched the Partnership for Patients in 2011 though the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to target a specific set of hospital-acquired conditions for reductions through systematic quality improvement. In addition, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), through a program created by the Affordable Care Act, worked with hospital networks and aligned payment incentives to bring about a shared and sustained focus on making care safer.

"These achievements demonstrate the commitment across many public and private organizations and frontline clinicians to improve the quality of care received by patients across the county," said Patrick Conway, M.D., deputy administrator for innovation and quality and chief medical officer at CMS. "It is important to remember that numbers like 125,000 lives saved or over 3 million infections and adverse events avoided represent real value for people across the nation who received high quality care and were protected from suffering a terrible outcome. It is a testament to what can be accomplished when people commit to working towards a common goal. We will continue our efforts to improve patient safety across the nation on behalf of the patients, families, and caregivers we serve."

"Hospitals and health systems, along with their frontline clinicians, can take great pride in this progress," said Jay Bhatt, D.O., American Hospital Association Chief Medical Officer and president of AHA's Health Research & Educational Trust. "Not only have they saved lives, but they’ve also developed tremendous capacity to tackle safety challenges—a foundation that will help them get to zero incidents."

Hospital-acquired conditions include adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line associated bloodstream infections, pressure ulcers and surgical site infections, among others. These conditions were selected as focus areas because they occur frequently and appear to be largely preventable based on existing evidence.

Much of the evidence on how to prevent hospital-acquired conditions was developed and tested by AHRQ. For example, one of the tools used most frequently by hospitals is AHRQ’s Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP), which is a proven method that combines improvement in safety culture, teamwork and communications with evidence-based practices to prevent harm and make the care patients receive safer. AHRQ has worked hand-in-hand with frontline clinicians to help them use CUSP in a series of nationwide projects that have been highly effective in preventing healthcare-associated infections.

"AHRQ has been building a foundation of patient safety research for the last decade and a half at the request of Congress," said AHRQ director Andy Bindman, M.D. "Now we’re seeing these investments continue to pay off in terms of lives saved, harm avoided, and safer care delivery overall. We’re gratified by the progress, and we look forward to building on this work to help make patient care even safer as the work continues."

AHRQ works with its HHS colleagues, researchers, doctors, nurses, other health care professionals, and health care teams across the country to create new knowledge about how to improve care and make it safer, in areas such as preventing healthcare-associated infections, combating antibiotic resistance, and reducing diagnostic error. As part of that work, AHRQ has developed a variety of methods, tools, and resources to help hospitals and other providers prevent hospital-acquired conditions, such as infections, pressure ulcers, and falls.

AHRQ also developed the measurement strategy for the National Scorecard as part of the Partnership for Patients initiative. Researchers at AHRQ used national data systems to analyze the incidence of 28 avoidable hospital-acquired conditions that occurred from 2010 to the first three quarters of 2015 and compared them to baseline estimates of deaths and excess health care costs for 2010.

HHS is committed to working with partners to capitalize on this success in improving patient safety and reducing health care costs while providing the best, safest possible care to patients.

View these data highlights as an infographic.

Page last reviewed December 2016
Page originally created December 2016
Internet Citation: National Patient Safety Efforts Save 125,000 Lives and Nearly $28 Billion in Costs. Content last reviewed December 2016. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/news/newsroom/press-releases/national-patient-safety-efforts-save-lives.html