At press time, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services was poised to announce a significant new patient-safety initiative. A draft document dated Jan. 4, and leaked by the Bureau of National Affairs, a Washington, D.C., news outfit, suggests that the program will be a public-private partnership focused on "hospital-acquired conditions" and readmissions. CMS officials would not comment for this article.

According to the draft, the CMS Innovation Center  will "launch a major multiyear financial commitment" to test and disseminate information about new approaches to improving safety. The center also will develop collaborative networks, standardize measures and improve patient engagement. The draft goes on to suggest that CMS would create financial rewards for high-performing hospitals and penalties for poor performers. The safety measures also could find their way into Medicare conditions of participation, according to the memo.

Similar efforts are under way in the private sector, says National Business Group on Health President and CEO Helen Darling. Through NBGH, a committee of 14 employers and four health plans have been meeting to develop payment and contracting policies that are connected to hospital safety records.

One idea, for instance, is that a hospital would not be considered a center of excellence or a preferred provider if it failed to meet certain safety benchmarks. Given antitrust issues, these policies will be designed as guides for employers and not something that can be enacted unilaterally. NBGH hopes to have a toolkit available in the fall, Darling says.