Wide-ranging efforts to make hospital care safer have resulted in an estimated 50,000 fewer patients dying because of avoidable errors in the past three years, according to a new report presented by government and industry officials on Tuesday. Hospitals reported 1.3 million fewer hospital-acquired infections in all between 2011-2013 compared to the rate of mistakes that hospitals made in 2010, according to the report from the Department of Health and Human Services. That represented a 17 percent drop in hospital errors from 2010, but about 12 percent of all hospitalizations as of 2013 still experienced an adverse event during the course of care.
What explains these declines? The Department of Health and Human Services has largely pointed at a set of programs that have come into effect since 2010 for catalyzing a movement towards better care and more emphasis on patient safety. Some of them are part of Obamacare: new financial penalties for hospitals that have particularly high rates of readmissions or harm to Medicare patients. Many of those programs began in 2010 and 2011, with the money at stake rising year after year. Private insurers, meanwhile, have moved in the same direction, tethering their own payments to hospitals to the quality of care that patients receive. One recent report found that 40 percent of private plans' payments to hospitals were in some way contingent on quality in 2014 -- a big jump from the 11 percent of incentive-based payments in 2013. Then there's also the Partnership for Patients, a government project separate from the Affordable Care Act, aiming to reduce the number of hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent between 2010 and 2014. That program has enrolled more than 3,700 hospitals -- who account for four in every five hospital patients -- in a learning collaborative to share best practices for increasing patient safety.