WASHINGTON, D.C.—The toolbox is full. The science is ready. All we need to do now is decide to do it.

That was the message CMS Administrator Don Berwick delivered yesterday when he and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a last-minute appearance together at the American Hospital Association's annual membership meeting in Washington, D.C. They came to ballyhoo the Partnership for Patients: Better Care, Lower Costs initiative launched with great fanfare earlier in the day.

Spearheaded by HHS, the public-private Partnership aims to improve patient safety by widely sharing real-world examples of how organizations have reduced errors and encourage others to adopt those best practices.

"We know safety can be improved because hospitals are already doing it," Sebelius told AHA members gathered in the Washington Hilton. "Unfortunately, many of the proven methods have been slow to spread."

The Partnership sets two goals to be reached by the end of 2013: reduce preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent and reduce avoidable readmissions by 20 percent. Up to $1 billion in Affordable Care Act funds will support the program.

Achieving the goals will not only save lives and prevent injuries to millions of Americans, Sebelius told AHA members, it could also save up to $35 billion dollars across the health care system, including up to $10 billion in Medicare savings, over the next three years. During the next 10 years, it could reduce costs to Medicare by about $50 billion and result in billions more in Medicaid savings.

AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock reassured the audience that the Partnership is a voluntary effort. "It's not changing the dates or penalties of the Affordable Care Act," he said.

"There's no down side," Umbdenstock stressed, noting that the AHA and five other national hospital associations were among the first to sign on, jointly pledging themselves to help the Partnership achieve its goals. Sebelius said 500 hospitals across the country had already pledged to participate as of yesterday afternoon.

Patient safety is not a workforce issue, Berwick said, "it's a property of a system," that may, for instance, be too complex, too fragmented or that uses poor technology. Improving it depends on leadership—from the board of trustees to the C-suite to clinical executives.

The Partnership "takes excellence to scale," Berwick said, in order "to make the best care, normal care."

Sebelius said the initial targets are just the start. "Our ultimate goal in health care should not be to reduce errors by 10 percent or 20 percent or 30 percent," she said. "It should be to eliminate errors."

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