Drop in HACs saves thousands of lives, $12B in costs

Efforts to prevent hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) have paid off in a big way, with a new government report estimating that the steps hospitals took to reduce the adverse events resulted in 50,000 fewer patient deaths between 2011 and 2013.

Preliminary estimates indicate that in total, hospital patients experienced 1.3 million fewer HACs during the three-year period, which translates to a 17 percent decline.

The improvement is a "remarkable achievement" that not only saved lives, but resulted in a $12 billion cost reduction for hospitals, according to the report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). 

HACs include adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, central line associated bloodstream infections, pressure ulcers and surgical site infections.  

HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell, speaking at a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) conference in Baltimore Tuesday, said the reduction is a "big deal, but it's only a start," according to NBC News. "No American should ever lose his or her life, or spend the holidays in the hospital because of a condition that could have been prevented," she said. 

The latest data reflects the progress hospitals made to improve patient safety, with the most significant gains occurring in 2012 and 2013, HHS said in a statement announcing the results. In 2013 alone, almost 35,000 fewer patients died in hospitals, and approximately 800,000 fewer incidents of harm occurred, saving approximately $8 billion, according to preliminary estimates.

While the HHS report authors admit that "the precise causes of the decline in patient harm are not fully understood," it assigns some credit to initiatives such as CMS' Partnership for Patients, perhaps in response to past criticism of the program that claimed its methods and data were weak, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

The HHS report focused on 21 different causes for patient harm--including falls and surgical site infections--in hospitals during the three years studied. The largest reduction was found in the number of adverse drug events (giving patients the wrong drug or wrong dose), which dropped by more than 40 percent.

The reduction of drug-related errors is especially significant because previous research indicates that hospitals tell patients and their families about medication mistakes only about 2 percent of the time.

In terms of cost-savings, the prevention of pressure ulcers in patients represented the biggest piece of the pie, with reductions in their numbers accounting for savings of more than $4.7 billion, followed closely by savings from the prevention of drug-related errors.

To learn more:
- check out the HHS report (.pdf)
- here's the announcement
- read the NBC News article
- read The Hill's article