Hospitals across the country have been working since the 1999 release of the Institute of Medicine’s “To Err is Human” report to reduce preventable harm in their institutions. Why then, is it so challenging to make sense of the impact of their efforts?

Riding High in December, Falling Short by January?
In December, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported  a 17 percent decline in hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2013 — an estimated 1.3 million prevented patient harms. Efforts by hospitals to reduce HACs during this period prevented approximately 50,000 patient deaths and $12 billion in costs, according to AHRQ.

Health & Human Services touted the findings, applauding hospitals for reducing HACs. The department recognized several initiatives funded by the Affordable Care Act, and specifically the Partnership for Patients’ Hospital Engagement Networks, as playing a key role in the efforts.

Leading news outlets covered AHRQ’s positive findings. For example, CNBC’s “Hospitals make ‘unprecedented’ strides in patient safety” was a welcome headline for health care leaders working to reduce preventable harms within their institutions.

Yet, just one month later, the CDC released its “National and State Healthcare Associated Infections Progress Report.” Its findings were much gloomier. While the report noted “significant reductions” for nearly all infections, U.S. hospitals failed to meet improvement goals established by the 2009 HAI Action Plan for all six infections measured.  

The reports may seem conflicting, but they both actually found the same thing: Hospitals have achieved a great deal, but there’s more work to be done.

Moving Forward
With the HEN program officially ending in December, other improvement initiatives are picking up where it left off. The Patient Safety Movement is one such program. The PSM, which held its annual summit last weekend in Irvine, Calif., seeks to reduce the number of preventable deaths in hospitals to zero by 2020.  (Disclosure: I served as a panelist at the event.)

Since the PSM’s inception in 2013, 500 hospitals committed to reduce their preventable harms to zero by 2020.  At the Summit, Joe Kiani, founder of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, announced that improvement efforts by its partner hospitals prevented more than 6,200 deaths in 2014 alone. Kiani hopes that all 5,000-plus hospitals in the country will commit to zero deaths by the organization’s 2020 deadline.

Hospitals can learn more about the Patient Safety Movement by visiting http://patientsafetymovement.org/commitments

If you need to be enticed, the PSM is prepared: The top three health care institutions to measurably demonstrate the most lives saved as a result of their commitments by June 2015 will be handsomely rewarded. Two representatives from each institution will be invited on a fishing trip with Former President Jimmy Carter at his exclusive Brigadoon Lodge in the North Georgia Mountains.