Healthcare News & Insights

Adverse events declining for patients, but there’s still a way to go

A recent study offers hospitals some good news about patient safety: Rates of adverse events for patients with certain conditions are on the decline.

166840595But even with the improvements, hospitals still have an uphill road to climb.

In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers looked at data from the Medicare Patient Safety Monitoring System for patients who were hospitalized for four reasons: heart attack, congestive heart failure, surgery and pneumonia. The numbers they reviewed were gathered over a six-year period, from 2005 to 2011 (excluding 2008).

According to a HealthDay article about the study, researchers determined that the rate of 21 different adverse events dropped by 25% for patients who had heart attacks and 28% for patients with congestive heart failure.

The adverse events reviewed included problems such as:

  • Reactions to drugs
  • Falls
  • Bedsores
  • Hospital-acquired infections, and
  • Post-surgery complications

Specifically, rates for adverse events went from 5% to 3.7% in heart attack patients. For congestive heart failure patients, the rates dropped from 3.7% to 2.7%.

What needs fixing

While the results for patients with heart problems are promising, the rates of improvement for other conditions are a mixed bag. The study found there were no significant reductions in the rates of adverse events for patients who were in the hospital for pneumonia, or for those admitted for surgery.

And while the listed adverse events are on the decline for heart attack and congestive heart failure patients, hospitals still have their work cut out for them.

Reason: Other complications for patients with heart disease are on the rise.

According to the study’s results, the percentage of heart attack patients that developed bedsores or ventilator-assisted pneumonia during their hospital stay increased.  This group of patients also experienced a rise in kidney problems linked to contrast material commonly used for heart procedures.

Congestive heart failure patients also experienced more mechanical issues relating to central catheters.

Effect on patient outcomes

Another statistic that shows hospitals have some work to do: According to a press release issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which funded the study, there was a correlation between these adverse events and some even worse outcomes.

Patients who experienced one or more adverse events were more likely to have a longer hospital stay – and more likely to die in the hospital. Although there wasn’t enough data to prove the adverse events themselves were the cause, this relationship is still troubling.

Where to go for help

Armed with this data about adverse events for common conditions where patient outcomes are closely scrutinized by payors, hospital execs can decide what areas they need to focus on to provide higher quality patient care and avoid financial penalties.

AHRQ offers checklists and toolkits on its website for hospitals to improve their safety culture and prevent many of these adverse events in patients.

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