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American hospitals became safer for patients over last decade, new study finds

SeniorsMatter logo SeniorsMatter 1 day ago Nicolas Telep
senior man in hospital bed listening to doctor © SeniorsMatter senior man in hospital bed listening to doctor

Patient safety in U.S. hospitals improved significantly over the course of the 2010s, according to new research from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The research from HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found “statistically significant decreases” in adverse event rates for American hospital patients from 2010-2019. The study was published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study included almost a quarter of a million patients in more than 3,000 hospitals around the country. Using Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System data, researchers tracked a group of 21 safety-related events and found the rates of these events decreased for some patients over the course of the entire decade—as well as for patients admitted to the hospital for all ailments from 2012-2019. AHRQ Director Robert Otto Valdez, PhD, said this research shows health care workers have the knowledge to keep improving patient safety in the future.

This research shows health care workers have the knowledge to keep improving patient safety in the future.

“America’s doctors, nurses and allied health workers dedicate their professional lives to serving patients and keeping them safe,” Valdez said in a statement. “These study results indicate that we know how to improve patient safety by working together and that we can sustain those results over time. The pandemic has undoubtedly put those successes at risk, but this study should provide motivation for health care officials to rebuild and rededicate ourselves to a patient and provider safety doctrine.”

The 21 adverse events tracked by researchers were broken down into four groups: drug events, infections, adverse events after a procedure, and a fourth general category. The final category would include safety issues like bedsores that develop or falls that happen while a patient is in the hospital.

Of the patients measured, the groups whose safety improved the most over the time period were major surgery and heart attack patients, who both saw a 41% decrease in the rate of adverse events during the decade.

The groups whose safety improved the most over the time period were major surgery and heart attack patients, who both saw a 41% decrease in the rate of adverse events.

The study’s authors note that there needs to be further research to better understand long-term patient safety trends. This study’s timeframe notably does not include the vast majority of the timeframe of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Erin Grace, acting director of the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at AHRQ, is optimistic the amount of data available to researchers will help those in health care better understand patient safety going forward.

“This study serves as evidence of what many in the field of patient safety have long believed—that when we work together towards a common goal, rely on the evidence, and attend to individual patient needs, we can achieve great results,” Grace said in the statement. “This all-in approach will also be critical to future analyses of the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on patient safety.”

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