NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 4, 2005

Hospital-acquired infections are worsening in the United States, even though the problem is widely recognized, according to a new report. Such infections provide a good indication of which hospitals are prone to errors overall, says the report, from Colorado-based Health Grades Inc.

According to researchers:

  • Hospital-acquired infections rates worsened by approximately 20 percent from 2000 to 2003 and accounted for 9,552 deaths and $2.60 billion, almost 30 percent of the total excess cost related to the patient safety incidents.
  • Such infections include antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are very difficult to treat, including staphylococcus and streptococcus infections.

Health Grades, which evaluates the quality of hospitals, physicians and nursing homes, found more than 300,000 patients died after suffering some sort of adverse, hospital-related incident in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

The report found that more than 80 percent of these deaths could be attributed to the incident.

"Hospital-acquired infections correlated most highly with overall performance and performance on the other 12 patient safety incidents, suggesting that hospital-acquired infection rates could be used as a proxy of overall hospital patient safety," say researchers.

But many hospitals emerged with good overall records on patient safety, the report found. They seem to have a "culture of safety," said Health Grades Vice President of Medical Affairs Dr. Samantha Collier.

"A 'culture of safety' requires rapid identification of errors and root causes and the successful implementation of improvement strategies, which can only be achieved with strong leadership, critical thinking, and commitment to excellence," says Collier.

"For patients, it's important to know which hospitals meet this standard, as they are nearly 200 percent less likely to have an incident at hospitals in the top 10 percent," according to the Health Grades study.

Source: "Medical errors edging up in U.S., study finds," Reuters UK, May 2, 2005; based upon "Second Annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Report," Health Grades, May 2005.


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