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HealthGrades study: Patient safety incidents at U.S. hospitals remain unchanged, costly

From staff reports

A study by HealthGrades, an independent healthcare ratings organization, the rate of patient safety incidents at U.S. hospitals showed no decline in 2009 for the fourth consecutive year, but costs have totaled almost $9 billion. 

In its seventh annual study, HealthGrades reviewed around 39.5 million hospitalization records from about 5,000 of the country's nonfederal hospitals to track trends in a range of patient safety incidents and identifies those hospitals that are in the top 5 percent in the nation.

The study detailed that about 1 million patient-safety incidents occurred among Medicare patients over the years 2006, 2007 and 2008. In all, the incidents were associated with $8.9 billion in costs. But according to the study, one in 10 patients experiencing a patient-safety incident died as a result. Patients at hospitals in the top 5 percent experienced 43 percent fewer patient safety incidents, on average, compared to poorly performing hospitals.

“This annual study serves the twin goals of documenting the state of patient safety for hospitals to benchmark against, and providing individuals with objective information with which to evaluate local hospitals,” said Rick May, M.D., a vice president at HealthGrades and co-author of the study. “It is disheartening, however, to see that the numbers have not changed since last year’s study and, in fact, certain patient safety incidents, such as post-operative sepsis, are on the rise.”

The following are the 15 patient safety indicators studied:

  • Complications of anesthesia
  • Death in low mortality Diagnostic Related Groupings (DRGs)
  • Decubitus ulcer (bed sores)
  • Death among surgical inpatients with serious treatable complications
  • Iatrogenic pneumothorax
  • Selected infections due to medical care
  • Post-operative hip fracture
  • Post-operative hemorrhage or hematoma
  • Post-operative physiologic and metabolic derangements
  • Post-operative respiratory failure
  • Post-operative pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis
  • Post-operative sepsis
  • Post-operative abdominal wound dehiscence
  • Accidental puncture or laceration
  • Transfusion reaction
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