Hospital-acquired condition rates slowly falling, but work remains

Efforts to fight hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) are succeeding, with the number of cases falling by 17 percent between 2011 and 2013, according to a study published this week by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Rates nationally fell from 145 HACs per 1,000 patient discharges to 121, resulting in a cumulative total of 1.3 million fewer HACs in 2011, 2012 and 2013 than would have occurred had HACs stayed at the 2010 level, according to the study.

The report tracked 21 adverse events including patient falls, hospital-acquired infections and complications such as pressure ulcers. This reduction in HACs cut in-hospital deaths by about 50,000 and saved $12 billion in care costs.

Two years ago, hospital-acquired infections were mushrooming into a $45 billion per year crisis, but this week's report echoes news from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) earlier this year that U.S. healthcare personnel are slowly but steadily gaining ground in this fight.

The research team analyzed 18,000 to 33,000 medical records for each year of the study using a special software tool. The data included records on patients receiving 17 different surgical procedures. 

Multiple organizations have worked together on the national level to reduce the amount of harm done to patients in the healthcare environment including AHRQ, the CDC and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, as well as public-private collaboratives such as the Partnership for Patients. 

Rates of some HACs dropped sharply over the course of the study. Central line-associated bloodstream infections fell 44 percent from 2008 to 2012 and some types of surgical site infections declined as much as 20 percent. These present real advances against some of the costliest and most deadly threats posed to patients in the healthcare environment, the report noted.

"Despite the tremendous progress to date in reducing HACs, much work remains to be done to ensure that the U.S. healthcare system is as safe as it can possibly be," the study abstract concluded. "HHS and other public and private partners are continuing to work to improve hospital safety. These latest data indicate that it is possible to make substantial progress in reducing virtually all types of HACs simultaneously."

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- here's the full report (.pdf)