Researchers compared the latest hospital quality ratings to rates observed three years prior, finding both progress and opportunities for much more improvement.
The estimated number of avoidable deaths in U.S. hospitals each year has dropped, according to updated analysis prepared for The Leapfrog Group by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine researchers.
Matt Austin, PhD, an assistant professor in the school's Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, and Jordan Derk, MPH, used the latest data from Leapfrog's semiannual hospital safety grades to estimate that there are 161,250 such deaths each year, down from the 206,000 deaths they estimated three years prior, according to their report.
Austin and Derk said they used 16 measures from Leapfrog's spring 2019 data to identify deaths that could clearly be attributed to a patient safety event or closely related prevention process. The reduction is the result of two main factors, they wrote: One, hospitals have made some improvement on the performance measures included in Leapfrog's safety grades. And, two, some of the measures "have been re-defined and rebaselined" in the past three years, they wrote.
Furthermore, these data likely represent an undercount, Austin and Derk wrote, noting that other studies have estimated anywhere from 44,000 to 440,000 deaths due to medical errors.
"The measures included in this analysis reflect a subset of all potential harms that patients may encounter in U.S. hospitals, and as such, these results likely reflect an underestimation of the avoidable deaths in U.S. hospitals," they wrote.
"Also, we have only estimated the deaths from patient safety events and have not captured other morbidities that may be equally important," they added.
The updated analysis was released to coincide with the latest release of Leapfrog's controversial scores, which came out Wednesday, having assessed quality data from more than 2,600 hospitals and assigned each an "A" through "F" letter grade.
"The good news is that tens of thousands of lives have been saved because of progress on patient safety. The bad news is that there's still a lot of needless death and harm in American hospitals," Leapfrog Group President and CEO Leah Binder said in a statement.
Less than one-third (32%) of hospitals secured an "A" grade. More than a quarter (26%) earned a "B." The group gave a "C" to another 36%, a "D" to 6%, and an "F" to less than 1% of hospitals.
The analysis from Austin and Derk found that the rate of avoidable deaths per 1,000 admissions was 3.24 at "A" hospitals, 4.37 at "B" hospitals, 6.08 at "C" hospitals, and 6.21 and "D" and "F" hospitals combined. That means patients admitted to a "D" or "F" hospital face nearly double the risk of those admitted to an "A" hospital, the Leapfrog group said.
—Steven Porter is an associate content manager and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.
Hospitals that earned a "D" or "F" had nearly double the risk of hospitals that earned an "A."
While there has been real improvement, there have also been methodological changes contributing to the updated data, the researchers said.