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Safety Gap Widening Between Best Worst Hospitals

Study finds patient safety incidents, infections increased

MONDAY, May 2, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- There's a widening gap in medical errors between the best and worst hospitals in the United States, says a new report released Monday.

The study of 37 million patient records found that 1.18 million patient safety incidents occurred among Medicare hospitalizations in the years 2001, 2002 and 2003, with a cost to Medicare of about $3 billion a year. That compares to 1.14 million incidents in the three years beginning with 2000, the report found.

Hospital-acquired infections increased by 20 percent, and accounted for 30 percent of the costs of patient safety incidents, according to the second annual report by HealthGrades, an organization that evaluates the quality of hospitals, physicians and nursing homes.

The top 10 percent of hospitals had 267,151 fewer patient safety incidents and 48,417 fewer deaths compared with the bottom 10 percent of hospitals. In addition, the top 10 percent of hospitals improved at a greater rate than the bottom 10 percent between 2001 and 2003.

"The reason we see the hospitals with the lowest incident rates improving the fastest is that they have what I call a 'culture of safety,'" study author Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs at HealthGrades, said in a prepared statement.

"A 'culture of safety' requires rapid identification of errors and root causes of and the successful implementation of improvement strategies, which can only be achieved with strong leadership, critical thinking, and commitment to excellence. For patients, it's important to know which hospitals meet this standard, as they are nearly 200 percent less likely to have an incident at hospitals in the top 10 percent," Collier said.

The study concluded that if the bottom 10 percent of hospitals improved only their hospital-acquired infection rates to levels that matched those of the top 10 percent of hospitals, 2,734 lives and $792 million could have been saved from 2001 through 2003.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips on how to prevent medical errors.

SOURCE: HealthGrades, news release, May 2, 2005
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