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AHRQ Reports Find Issues with Patient Safety, Racial Disparities

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 6, 2009

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released two reports today that shows that most patients are not getting recommended medical treatments and quality of care for non-whites and poor people is not improving.

One report, the National Healthcare Quality Report, found that:

  • A little more than half of patients get medical treatments that are recommended.
  • Only 40% of patients with diabetes received the three exams they're supposed to have each year.
  • One in seven Medicare patients experience an adverse event in a healthcare setting.
  • Compliance with hospital patient safety measures have worsened by nearly 1 % in each of the last six years.

A second report issued by the agency, the National Healthcare Disparities Report, found that quality of care is not improving for non-whites and poor people in at least 60% of quality measures, which include timeliness of care, communication with providers, and prenatal care.

"Today's reports show why we can't wait to enact comprehensive health reform," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Patients expect to get better in healthcare facility, not worse," she said.

Sebelius also promised $50 million in American Recovery Act funds for states to help fight health setting-acquired infections. Of that, $40 million would be awarded through competitive grants to eligible states to expand prevention and surveillance efforts and strengthen the public health workforce. Another $10 million would go to states to improve inspections for ambulatory surgical centers.

And while stimulus package money will help providers improve safety, Sebelius said, "We need hospitals to do more. Today I'm challenging hospitals to take basic steps to fight infections that are weakening our healthcare system and threatening patient safety."

One reason for the poor quality improvement is the struggle to reduce blood stream infections from central lines in intensive care units. She challenged hospitals to reduce the number of infections by 75% over the next three years and issued a 20-step checklist to prevent mistakes and infections.

Overall, healthcare-associated infections acquired in a nursing home or hospital are "among the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. and drive up the cost of healthcare by up to $20 billion per year," the agency said in a statement.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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