The financial return on a culture of patient safety

Patient safety has always been a mantra in the hospital setting. But do hospitals get an actual financial return when they embrace a culture of safety?

A new study at the Florida-based Adventist Health System and published in the Journal of Patient Safety suggests that they do. Researchers found that a patient who suffers temporary harm during a hospital stay costs the provider $2,187. If the patient suffers a greater harm, the cost to the hospital is $4,617. Those extra costs also contribute to the erosion of overall margins--a $669 negative contribution margin for temporary harms and a negative contribution margin of $1,112 per patient for severe harms.

The Adventist study followed more than 21,000 patients treated by its 24 hospitals between 2009 and 2012. By increasing patient safety and reducing harm incidents, it saved $108 million in total costs and $18 million in negative contributions to its margins.

"It proves that doing what is right is also what is best for business, challenging us as healthcare providers to be both excellent caregivers and good stewards of the resources we have to care for patients," said Terry Shaw, Adventist Health's chief financial officer and chief operations officer in a statement.

Medical errors are a huge problem in healthcare delivery. Such errors kill as many as 400,000 Americans per year, making them the third leading cause of death nationwide, and has even caught the attention of politicians such as Vice President Joe Biden.

There are a variety of ways to improve patient safety in the hospital setting, from comprehensive programs that address the issue aggressively, to more simple solutions such as better engagement from senior physicians. Competing hospitals can also collaborate in order to share data and improve safety as a result.

To learn more:
- read the study announcement
- check out the study abstract