Sharing safety data among hospitals is shown to cut injury rate

Here’s a new research finding that is encouraging but discouraging at the same time for patient safety.

After 16 Michigan hospitals began to share patient safety information, surgical complication rates dropped by nearly 10 percent, according to a recent study.

That’s encouraging, of course. The disquieting piece is why it would take a major research study to reach such an intuitively obvious result, and why sharing of data doesn’t already happen on a wide and routine scale.

The University of Michigan study followed a program called the Michigan Surgical Quality Collaborative, which involved 300,000 patients who had general or vascular surgery between 2005 and 2007.

The greatest reductions were seen in blood infections, septic shock, prolonged ventilator use and cardiac arrest. Death rates remained the same.

According to the study’s author, Darrell A. Campbell Jr., MD, a professor of surgery and chief medical officer of the University of Michigan Health System, “the collaboration of hospitals in terms of identifying and disseminating information about best practices is actually a much more effective way of improving quality than just relying on each hospital alone to come up with what they think is a way to improve quality. In other words, sharing ideas is important and it’s effective.” He added that this type of program could help achieve the health care reform goals of improving quality and reducing costs.

“Surgical complications are very expensive,” Campbell says. “Once something bad happens following surgery, it takes a lot of resources for the patient to recover.”

A preventable surgical complication can add weeks to a hospital stay and thousands in added costs. Contracting pneumonia from prolonged ventilator use following a surgical procedure, for example, can add $50,000 to a hospital bill.

Given the high cost of surgical complications, authors estimate that it would take only a 1.8 percent reduction in complications a year for three years to offset the cost of supporting the pay for participation program.

“If this system was adopted nationally, not just in Michigan, I think you would find a greatly accelerated pace of surgical quality improvement,” Campbell says.

Inspired by the Michigan group, surgeons in Tennessee and upper New York have launched collaboratives. Similar ones are in the works in Pennsylvania, Virginia and Illinois.

Source: University of Michigan press release.

You can view an abstract of the study in Archives of Surgery here.

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