Medical Error Rates Vary Widely, HealthGrades Finds

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media , March 10, 2011

Even with encouraging research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing reductions in hospital-acquired bloodstreaminfections, that progress is inconsistent. Some hospitals have made rapid progress in reducing infection rates, but hospitals continue to show wide variations.

HealthGrades found that patients treated at the top 5% of hospitals for patient safety were 52% less likely to contract a hospital-acquired bloodstream infection or to suffer from post-surgical sepsis than those treated at poor-performing hospitals. Nearly one in six patients who acquired a bloodstream infection while in the hospital died, the study found.

HealthGrades used the AHRQ's 13 patient safety indicators – which include foreign objects left in a body following a procedure, excessive bruising or bleeding as a result of surgery, bloodstream infections from catheters, and bedsores – to identify those hospitals performing in the top 5%, naming them Patient Safety Excellence Award recipients. The list of these hospitals, along with clinical quality ratings for all of the nation's nearly 5,000 hospitals, can be found at

The HealthGrades study also found regional variation in the prevalence of medical errors and preventable deaths and complications. The 10 cities with the fewest patient safety incidents are: Minneapolis-St. Paul; Wichita, KS; Cleveland; Wilkes-Barre, PA; Toledo, OH; Boston; Greenville, SC; Honolulu; Charlotte, NC; and Oklahoma City.

HealthGrades independently and objectively analyzed approximately 40 million Medicare patient records from fiscal years 2007 through 2009. To be included in the analysis, hospitals must have met minimum thresholds in terms of patient volumes, quality ratings, and the range of services provided.

In the HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey 2011, ninety-one percent of healthcare leaders specializing in quality improvement said compliance with government regulations in the next three years will be challenging or very challenging.

John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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