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Hospital Mistakes, Infections on Decline After Obamacare: DHHS Report

Federal health officials indicate that improvements in infection prevention, communication and other policies are leading to a decrease in the number of medical mistakes and hospital infections at facilities throughout the United States.

According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Wednesday, there was a nine percent decrease in the rate of hospital-acquired conditions nationally from 2011 to 2012.

Hospital-acquired conditions included medication errors, falls, infections, and other incidents that result in harm to patients that was caused by mistakes or errors in a hospital.

The preliminary data showed hospitals are becoming safer for patients, indicating that reductions in mistakes helped prevent nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals and more than 560,000 patient injuries.

Cost savings associated with preventing more than half a million injuries and thousands of deaths translated to more than $4 billion in reduced health spending over that same time period.

Hospital readmission rates were also reduced during this time period. Historically readmission rates were well over 1%. Those rates dropped for the first time in five years.

Medicare all-cause readmission rates also decreased in 2013 to 17.5%, an eight percent reduction in the rate. This resulted in 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions among Medicare users between January 2012 and December 2013.

“We are seeing a simultaneous reduction in hospital readmissions and injuries, giving patients confidence that they are receiving the best possible care and lowering their risk of having to be readmitted to the hospital after they get the care they need,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Health experts attribute the reduction in medical mistakes to improved policies, increased partnerships and communication between federal agencies, industry and healthcare providers.

“The public-private partnerships are working collaboratively – along with health care providers – to identify and spread best practices and solutions to reducing hospital acquired conditions and readmissions,” said the statement issued by the HHS.

Hospitals Face New Affordable Care Act Requirements

The HHS also noted reductions in hospital readmissions are significantly reduced by measures introduced under the Affordable Care Act implemented by the Obama administration, pointing to the sudden drop in readmission rates that occurred in 2013, when portions of the Act were implemented.

Under the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as “Obamacare”, hospitals face strict financial penalties if too many Medicare beneficiaries are readmitted within 30 days of initial hospitalization. Many health experts believe this is creating a higher quality of care and heightened accountability for healthcare providers.

The HHS also said the strengthened partnerships were made possible by active engagement by patients and families concerning medical conditions.

The news of the decrease in medical mistakes comes on the heels of a report released last month detailing the widespread harm medical misdiagnoses cause each year. A study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety revealed an estimated six million Americans are harmed by outpatient misdiagnosis errors every year. More than 12 million received a misdiagnosis in outpatient facilities, half of which result in actual harm to patients.

Last year another study found more than 400,000 Americans die each year from medical mistakes in hospitals, many which could have been prevented. The study revealed preventable hospital error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The data for that metastudy came from four previous studies published from 2008 to 2011, before the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

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