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Medical Error Rates Vary Widely, HealthGrades Finds

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 10, 2011

Patients have a 46% lower risk of experiencing a safety incident at a top-rated hospital compared to a poorly rated hospital, HealthGrades reports this week.

The findings are from the annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals study, released Wednesday, which analyzed 40 million Medicare patient records, from 2007 to 2009. HealthGrades used 13 patient safety indicators published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to identify preventable medical mistakes that occurred during patients' hospitalizations.

"HealthGrades commends the efforts of those hospitals that are focused on providing consistent, safe and effective medical care," said Rick May, MD, vice president of clinical quality services at Denver-based HealthGrades, and co-author of the study. "But the fact remains that there are huge, life-and-death consequences associated with where a patient chooses to seek hospital care. Until we bridge that gap, HealthGrades urges patients to research the patient safety ratings of hospitals in their community and know what steps they can take to protect themselves from error before being admitted."

The HealthGrades study also found that:

  • Four patient safety indicators (death among surgical inpatients with serious treatable complications, pressure ulcer, post-operative respiratory failure, and post-operative sepsis) accounted for 68.51% of all patient safety events during the three years analyzed.
  • The 13 patient safety events studied were associated with $7.3 billion of excess cost, which equates to an additional $181.17 per Medicare patient hospitalization.
  • Preventable medical errors are so pervasive and costly that the federal government has proposed linking incentive-based hospital compensation to four of the AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators, starting in 2014. In addition, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are currently developing a 10-year, $70 billion plan aimed at reducing hospital-acquired infections.

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