Program Aims to Reduce Medical Errors in Oregon and Nationally

A new partnership between hospitals, clinics, the federal government, and independent health organizations has some ambitious goals for improving the nation’s healthcare system.

The Partnership for Patients initiative aims to avert 60,000 patient deaths due to hospital-acquired conditions or medical errors within three years. Additionally, the program strives to reduce unnecessary return visits to hospitals by 20 percent, and reduce hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent. These changes would result in a savings of $25 billion in the first three years alone, and $50 billion in Medicare costs over a decade.

To get the program started, the federal government is investing $1 billion into the Partnership for Patients program, and is encouraging hospitals, physicians, clinics and other health care groups to sign the pledge and commit themselves to reducing and preventing hospital negligence and medical errors. So far, over 4,500 groups across the country have signed the pledge, including over 50 organizations in Oregon.

By signing the pledge organizations commit to redesigning clinical activities to reduce potential harm to patients, focusing on having a patient-centered approach for care and coordination of care, and to sharing their experiences to improve patient safety.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her administration have focused on patient complications and medical errors because of the frequency of these problems in the United States. A 1999 study by the independent Institute of Medicine was one of the first to highlight the issue. It found that almost 100,000 Americans die each year from preventable hospital errors.

Examples of medical errors include surgical site infections, pneumonia from ventilators, central line infections, radiology errors and adverse drug effects. According to the results of the study, one in twenty patients acquired an infection from their hospital care, and one in seven Medicare patients were harmed during their care, costing Americans over four billion per year.

Sebelius would like hospitals and other medical care providers to use new research, new methods of organization and new routines to reduce the number of hospital-related illnesses and deaths. Tools the government has identified include streamlined administrative structures, and the Hospital Leadership and Quality Assessment Tool, which helps hospitals to analyze their strengths and weaknesses as an organization.

As the nation’s population continues to age placing more demands on hospitals, the Partnership for Patients should help improve patient safety, which will both save lives and save money.