New Report Shows Decrease in Hospital-Associated Infections


A new report from the US Department of Health and Human Services shows a drop in hospital-acquired conditions since 2010, marking improvements in patient safety for the national healthcare system.

While hospitals are often thought of as safe places of healing, patients may be at risk for a range of hospital-acquired conditions that drive up medical costs, prolong stays, and can even result in death. However, a recently released report shows that the number of these incidents has significantly declined in recent years.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that about 722,000 healthcare-acquired infections occurred in US acute care hospitals in 2011, resulting in an estimated 75,000 deaths. While they are just one kind of adverse event posing a threat to patient safety, these infections highlight the prevention strategies and hospital caregiver training that US hospitals have needed to create a safer healthcare system, as well as increase patient education efforts.

The US Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has released a new national scorecard on rates of hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) from 2010 to 2015. In its report, the agency has revealed data showing that hospitals across the country have exhibited marked improvement in offering safer care to patients. The conditions tracked in the HHS report include adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line-associated bloodstream infections, falls, obstetric adverse events, surgical site infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and more. Researchers found that, over the past five years, the number of HACs declined by 21%, with 3.1 million fewer patients experiencing these conditions and related adverse events. Furthermore, it was observed that rates did not rise but remained steady since 2010. In addition, an estimated 125,000 fewer patients died as a result of these infections, creating a $28 billion savings in healthcare costs overall.

While the reasons for this progress are not fully clear, HHS officials note that US hospitals have taken added measures to reduce adverse events, such as implementing new technical assistance programs along with the creation of the Partnership for Patients initiative, which the agency had launched in 2011 through the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation. That initiative applied systematic quality advancements to reduce specific HACs. Along with that effort, the Affordable Care Act created a program with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to implement incentives to help hospital networks focus on offering safer care. "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 in a recent press release. "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."

Overall, the new report shows that 2015 saw 980,000 fewer “incidents of harm” than would have occurred in the hospitals had incident rates remained stable since 2010. The drop in adverse drug events accounted for 42% of the overall reduction of adverse drug events, with measurable improvements also noted in incidents of pressure ulcers and catheter-associated urinary tract infections. "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, MD, 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."

Though the new numbers show notable improvements in healthcare safety, the report emphasizes that HHS and its public and private partners are committed to continuing these efforts, as much work remains to be done in order to reach national safety goals.

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