CHICAGO—Rulon Stacey, CEO of Poudre Valley Health System in Fort Collins, Colo., got the American College of Healthcare Executives 2011 Congress off to a rousing start this morning, asserting in his opening keynote that some health care pundits have exaggerated the risk posed by medical errors and other patient safety issues. That's led to a widespread misperception that hospitals present substantial risks to incoming patients.

Stacey, the 2011-11 ACHE Chairman, singled out "politicians looking for votes and consultants looking for clients" for suggesting that "American hospitals kill more patients than they save."

Stacey said those perceptions "have created a subculture of Americans who refuse to get needed treatment because they are afraid the system will do them more harm than good."

Despite his concerns about misinformation, Stacey called on the gathered executive audience to take the lead in improving patient safety through the adoption of best practices, noting that Poudre Valley Health System has reduced mortality by 14 percent over the last several years with an aggressive patient safety initiative. That translates into roughly 83 lives saved each year, he said.

"Somewhere, right now, a father can play catch with his son because the employees, physicians and volunteers at Poudre Valley made a high level of investment," Stacey said.

Karen Davis, CEO of the Commonwealth Fund, followed Stacey, and, after discussing several Commonwealth Fund reports on health care outcomes, lamented "unacceptable variation in patient safety." Davis then expressed hope that the payment and delivery system provisions of the Affordable Care Act would ultimately produce more substantive changes to health care than the more highly publicized coverage provisions, arguing that accountable care organizations can produce real changes in care delivery if proper coordination occurs and if CMS gives budding ACOs enough flexibility to experiment with different structures.

"It is my belief that the delivery and payment system reforms will go furthest in achieving the Triple Aim," Davis said.

The underlying question that Davis and Stacey ruminated on, of course, is how health care leaders can improve both patient safety and public perceptions of the health care system in the difficult years to come. Both noted the upcoming shift from fee-for-service to global payment structures, value-based purchasing and other pay-for-performance arrangements. Stacey's provocative comments got a huge reaction from the audience—some of whom gave him a loud of round of applause. But I'd like to hear from you— is misinformation about patient safety risks keeping some people from seeking needed medical care? E-mail your thoughts to And read the full text of Stacey's speech at his blog.