HHS patient safety effort pledges to save 60,000 lives over three years

By Mary Mosquera
11:57 AM

The Health and Human Services Department has launched the Partnership for Patients, an effort to cut medical mistakes and adverse events with the initial goal of saving 60,000 lives over the next three years.
So far, more than 500 hospitals, as well as physicians and nurses groups, consumer groups, and employers have pledged their commitment to the new initiative, said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in announcing the patient safety initiative on April 12.  
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HHS has pledged to spend up to $1 billion in funding under the health reform law to improve patient safety through sharing best practices and models being tried by hospitals across the nation and in the process, save lives, enhance quality, and reduce costs.
The funding will underwrite changes that help to achieve two shared goals by the end of 2013, one of them to decrease by 40 percent preventable hospital-acquired conditions compared with 2010. This would translate to 1.8 million fewer injuries to patients and 60,000 lives saved, Sebelius said.  
Also by 2013, hospitals will reduce by 20 percent their re-admissions due to preventable complications during a transition from one care setting to another, compared with 2010. This means that 1.6 million will recover from illness without suffering a preventable complication requiring re-admission to the hospital within 30 days of discharge.
“Americans go the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents,” Sebelius added.
Over the next three years, the practices employed by the partnership have the potential to save up to $35 billion in healthcare costs, including up to $10 billion for Medicare, Sebelius said. Over the next 10 years, the partnership could reduce costs to Medicare by about $50 billion and result in billions more in Medicaid savings.
Health IT, such as electronic health records, will be crucial for the tools to enable healthcare providers to have the right information to make the best decisions to improve patient safety, Sebelius said, adding that it will include measuring and monitoring patient outcomes.
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A patient’s electronic health information record file ideally will be available instantaneously to know what is happening with the patient, that the right prescription has gotten to the pharmacist and be able to monitor whether that prescription was filled.

“The health IT investment that’s beginning to take hold in this country is a critical piece of the puzzle, not only measuring what we’re doing but then monitoring and being able to follow that protocol wherever the patient is so that care can be accessed and delivered,” Sebelius said.

Up to $500 million more will come from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Innovation Center to support new demonstrations related to reducing hospital-acquired conditions.
The CMS Innovation Center will help hospitals to adopt effective, evidence-based care improvements to target preventable patient injuries on a local level, develop innovative approaches to spreading and sharing strategies among public and private partners in all states, said Dr. Donald Berwick, CMS administrator.
“We will provide hospitals with incentives to improve the quality of health care, and provide real assistance to medical professionals and hospitals to support their efforts to reduce harm.”
The partnership will start by asking hospitals to focus on nine types of medical errors and complications where the potential for dramatic reductions in harm rates has been demonstrated by pioneering hospitals and systems across the country.  Examples include preventing adverse drug reactions, pressure ulcers, childbirth complications and surgical site infections.
Members of the partnership will identify specific steps they will take to reduce preventable injuries and complications in patient care.
Berwick said that hospital-acquired conditions and complications that patients face can be reduced.
“We know of places around the country that have knocked the socks off the problem, and in some cases eliminated it. The problem is that knowledge doesn’t move around quickly enough,” he said.

To that end, part of the resources CMS will invest in will be for setting up networks for support to reach out to clinicians so they can see “who’s doing the best and what the best looks like and how to adopt and adapt locally. It will have to be a distributed system,” he said.

The innovation center will test different models of improving patient care and patient engagement and collaboration in order to reduce hospital-acquired conditions and improve care transitions nationwide.