"Numbers rule the universe." This quote is attributed to Pythagoras, the great Greek mathematician and philosopher, who may or may not have invented the Pythagorean theorem but is reliably credited with making other mathematical and scientific discoveries.

Count and consider how many ways numbers rule our lives. Numbers measure time that passes not only in years, months, hours and minutes, but also in feet, inches and pounds. We log life by counting miles in the car, on a plane or on a treadmill. Though academic achievement is typically measured with letter grades, most of those grades are based on percentages numbers, again! Whether as students or teachers, physicians or CEOs, we all work with numbers every day of our lives. And for those who work as politicians, commentators, pollsters and canvassers in this election year, "numbers rule."

Numbers abound in the health care field, too, whether we're providers, patients or both. A newborn's health is evaluated with numbers: weight, length, head circumference and Apgar score. A chronically ill patient is evaluated with numbers: weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and heart rate. At hospitals and health care systems, we're frequently focusing on numbers and working to decrease some like the numbers of health care-associated infections, medical errors and readmissions or to increase others, such as breastfeeding rates, net assets and patient satisfaction.

The American Hospital Association's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence initiative to accelerate performance improvement in hospitals and health care systems nationwide marks objectives and achievements that can be revealed in numbers. To enumerate a few:

More than 1,100 hospital teams in 46 states and territories participated in the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program, reducing the rate of central line-associated bloodstream infections in adult intensive care units by 40 percent over a three-year period. This translates into saving more than 500 lives and more than $34 million in health care costs.

322 health care professionals from 188 organizations have participated in the Comprehensive Patient Safety Leadership Fellowship, created in 2001 by the AHA and the National Patient Safety Foundation.

Updated HPOE.org has more than 575 resources, including more than 250 case studies exclusive to the website and about 90 guides and reports. The guides, available for free download, cover topics ranging from improving perinatal safety to implementing advanced illness management strategies, developing hospital-physician integration programs. and eliminating health care disparities.

Five organizations the AHA, American College of Healthcare Executives, Association of American Medical Colleges, Catholic Health Association of the United States and National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems founded the National Call to Action to Eliminate Health Care Disparities. The website at www.equityofcare.org includes links to nearly 100 case studies, blogs and other resources to help hospitals improve quality of care for all patients.

All of these numbers add up to safe, effective, equitable and high-quality care delivered by more than 5,000 U.S. hospitals and health care systems with nearly 37 million admissions each year. Those are numbers that matter to us all.

A certified public accountant (inactive), Teri Fontenot is president and CEO of Woman's Hospital, Baton Rouge, La., and chair of the AHA Board of Trustees. She can be reached at teri.fontenot@womans.org.


NEWS FROM THE AHA...

AHA Guide offers data and details on U.S. hospitals

The AHA Guide 2013 provides comprehensive information on 6,500 hospitals; 400-plus health care systems, networks and alliances; 700 health care organizations and associations; 700 governmental agencies; and 3,000 other accredited providers. Beyond contact and demographic information, this encyclopedic directory includes exclusive hospital and health care statistics. Hospital profiles include physician arrangements, hospital organizational structure, utilization data, primary service data, approval code/accreditations, and Medicare Provider Identification. In-depth information on 148 hospital service lines, details on utilization characteristics (e.g., beds, admissions, census, outpatient visits, births, expenses), and Medicare Provider Identifications are easy to find. The guide contains approval codes from a number of organizations. For information, visit www.ahadataviewer.com.

Paper offers guidance to define, measure safety events

The American Society for Healthcare Risk Management issued the first in a series of white papers offering guidance on defining and measuring serious safety events for prevention purposes. The paper recommends a common definition for serious safety events, and techniques for investigating events and determining the effectiveness of prevention methods. Visit www.ashrm.org.

Expert facilitators available

Speakers Express can provide hospitals and health networks with well-known experts to facilitate meetings ranging from one-day seminars to multiday board retreats. The lineup includes more than 100 thought leaders, including such familiar names as Paul Keckley, James Orlikoff, John Combes, M.D., Ian Morrison, Nathan Kaufman and Connie Curran. The presenters specialize in a broad range of areas, from service excellence and quality and patient safety to leadership and the future of health care. Visit www.speakers-express.com.