New Initiative Aims to Reduce Medical Errors, Accidents

BY Betty Ann Bowser  April 12, 2011 at 7:06 PM EST


Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced Tuesday that her department will spend $1 billion dollars on a new program designed to cut down on medical mistakes, preventable injuries and infections in American hospitals.

The new program, called Partnership for Patients, was made public on the heels of a report released last week that said as much as much as 90 of all hospital mistakes, injuries and infections go unreported and that one in three Medicare patients would likely experience one of the three when admitted for treatment.

“Americans go to the hospital to get well, but millions of patients are injured because of preventable complications and accidents,” Sebelius said. She also said the partnership could save 60,000 lives over the next three years and up to $35 billion in health care costs if so many mistakes weren’t made.

Funding for the partnership will be made available through the new federal health care reform law. Hospitals with high re-admission rates and large numbers of mistakes will be able to apply for grants from a $500 million program to create pilot projects to reduce those problems.

The partnership will begin by asking hospitals to focus on nine types of medical mistakes where there is potential for dramatic reductions in harm. These include pressure ulcers, drug reactions, childbirth complications and surgical site infections.

HHS Medicare chief Dr. Donald Berwick has been tapped to oversee the new partnership. “Too many Americans are being harmed by the care that is supposed to help them,” Berwick said. “Through strong partnerships at national, regional, state and local levels … we are supporting the hospital community to significantly reduce harm to patients.”

A number of health policy experts told the NewsHour they believe the announcement signals a major shift on the part of HHS away from allowing hospitals to under-report medical mistakes to a new push to make them more accountable.

One of the participants in Tuesday’s announcement in Washington was Dr.
Patricia Gabow, CEO and Medical Director of Denver Health. Her hospital is a leader in reducing medical mistakes and infections. She said the program acknowledges: “Look, we have this problem. We need everybody engaged.”

Gabow said Denver Health has one of the lowest complication rates for blood clots in the leg of any hospital in the country and saves $15,000 a month by using a highly standardized process to identify people at risk for the condition. Her hospital also saves $200,000 a year by not overusing antibiotics.

Under the new federal health care reform law, starting in 2014, hospitals will receive lower reimbursement from the federal government for Medicare and Medicaid patients who suffer medical mistakes, infections or injuries. And they will also get lower payments for high readmission rates. That’s when a Medicare patients leaves the hospital but has to be readmitted with in 30 days.

Blair Childs, a senior Vice President for Premier Health Alliance, said the program puts hospitals on notice that they are facing a “new reality” — because prior to the federal health reform law they were not penalized for either high readmission rates or for large numbers of medical mistakes and infections.

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