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Significant drop in hospital infection rates since 2010

Written by Diane Archer

When we’re hospitalized, most of us worry about getting good treatment for the condition for which we were admitted. But, it’s important to understand that far too many people acquire an infection while hospitalized that is completely unrelated to the reason for their admission. The good news is that a new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reveals a 17 percent drop in hospital infection rates and other hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) between 2010 and 2013.

According to AHRQ, about 1.3 million fewer people contracted HACs during that time, and about 50,000 fewer people died in hospital as a result.  Though the exact causes for this drop in HACs is not known, AHRQ believes that Medicare payment incentives and HHS’s Partnership for Patients Initiative led to heightened hospital attention to patient safety.

Hospital-acquired conditions can take several forms and be costly to treat.  Among other things, they can be falls, pressure ulcers, adverse drug events, surgical site infections, central line infections, catheter-induced urinary infections or ventilator-induced pneumonia. AHRQ attributes different costs to treating each HAC. For example, AHRQ estimates that each case of pressure ulcers costs  $17,000 to treat and each adverse drug event costs $5,000. Reducing their frequency in 2011, 2012 and 2013 led to a cumulative cost savings of just shy of $12 billion.

The reduction in adverse drug events was almost as big as the reduction in all other HACs.  Hospital rates of adverse drug events dropped almost 44 percent over three years.  By comparison, pressure ulcer rates fell 22 percent.But, the reduction in pressure ulcers contributed most significantly to the number of lives saved.  The 22 percent reduction in pressure ulcers saved an estimated 20,272 lives; the 44 percent reduction in adverse drug effects saved an estimated 11,540 lives.

Medicare’s focus on addressing the HAC problems that the HHS Office of the Inspector General surfaced in 2010 seems to have paid off.  Back then, the Office of the Inspector General reported that almost three in 10 Medicare patients (27 percent) had been harmed as a result of care they received in hospital.

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