EHRs Credited for Increase in Hospital Patient Safety

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Thanks in part to widespread adoption of electronic health records, an estimated 87,000 fewer hospital patients died and nearly $20 billion in costs were saved because of reduced hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2014.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, hospital patients experienced 2.1 million fewer hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) from 2010 to 2014—a 17 percent decline over that period.

“This progress toward a safer healthcare system occurred during a period of concerted attention by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events as part of the ACA, including Medicare payment incentives to improve the quality of care and the HHS Partnership for Patients initiative,” said the agency.

HHS launched the Partnership for Patients (PfP) in 2011 to reduce a specific set of HACs. In addition to public-private initiatives designed to improve care quality and patient safety, the new report from HHS’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality credited widespread implementation and improved use of EHRs at hospitals.

AHRQ analyzed the incidence of a number of avoidable HACs compared to 2010 rates, using as a baseline estimates of deaths and excess healthcare costs that were developed when the PfP was launched. However, even with the 17 percent decline in the HACs measured since 2010, the report concludes that there is still much more work to be done.

“The interim 2014 HAC rate of 121 HACs per 1,000 discharges is the same as was seen in 2013, and it means that in 2013 and 2014 almost 10 percent of hospitalized patients experienced one or more of the HACs we measured. That rate is still too high,” states the report.

In addition to the proliferation of EHRs, the report also credits AHRQ patient safety programs for the progress, arguing that many of the tools that hospitals are using to achieve these results were developed by the agency.

“AHRQ’s role in delivery system reform is providing the data to make the healthcare system a safer place for patients and we are working to put these resources to use on the front lines of care,” said Richard Kronick, director of AHRQ, in a written statement.

Nonetheless, despite AHRQ success in this area the agency’s funding remains on the congressional chopping block, facing heavy budget cuts or even termination depending on whose version of the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill ultimately prevails in budget negotiations in Congress.  The FY 2016 House Appropriations bill calls for the outright termination of AHRQ effective Oct. 1, 2015—which was the beginning of the new fiscal year—while the FY 2016 Senate Appropriations bill would limit the agency’s funding to $236 million, a 35 percent budget cut from the previous year.

Also See: AHRQ’s Future Uncertain as Congress Wrangles over Budget

For now, however, AHRQ is able to operate thanks to a short-term continuing resolution passed by Congress to maintain federal operations and prevent a government shutdown. The legislation continues funding for government programs and services until December 11.

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