Saving Lives — and Money Too — With Patient Safety Reform

A new report from Public Citizen proposes 10 cost-cutting, patient safety measures that would save an estimated 85,000 lives and $35 billion a year. The report, “Back to Basics,” analyzed the results of scientific studies of treatment protocols for chronically recurring, avoidable medical errors.

In contrast to the high-tech tests and procedures that many experts blame for staggering increases in the nation’s health care costs, most of the reforms in Public Citizen’s report involve fundamentals as simple as practitioners consistently washing their hands, sufficiently tending to patients to prevent bed sores, and following simple safety checklists to prevent infections and complications stemming from operations.

Many of the proposals on Public Citizen’s list are the same that I discuss in my book, “The Life You Save.” The only difference is that I believe patients and families can do their own health care reform at home to implement many of these safety measures. I discuss examples of things patient advocates can do at the bedside to help prevent pressure ulcers (bed sores), injuries from falls, blood clots, infections and medication errors. See Chapter 12: “Your Personal Advocate, in the Hospital and Out,” and Chapter 13: “The Scandal of Infections in Hospitals and Other Health-Care Facilities, and What You Can Do.”

Here is more from Public Citizen’s news release announcing their new report.

Aside from the tragedy of needless deaths and injuries, the financial toll of failing to follow accepted safety procedures is astounding. Severe pressure ulcers cost an average of $70,000 apiece to treat. A catheter infection costs $45,000. Each instance of ventilator-associated pneumonia costs $5,800. Collectively, avoidable surgical errors cost an estimated $20 billion a year, bed sores $11 billion and preventable adverse drug reactions $3.5 billion.

“There are many incentives to order expensive tests and procedures and too few rewards for providing basic, sensible care,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “As the largest investor in the nation’s health care system, the federal government should ensure that fulfilling basic patient safety standards is a condition of receiving federal reimbursements. And the government should pay providers for doing the right thing. It will save money in the long run.”

Public Citizen proposes that health care providers:

• Use a checklist to reduce avoidable deaths and injuries resulting from surgical procedures (saves $20 billion a year);

• Use best practices to prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia (saves 32,000 lives and $900 million a year);

• Use best practices to prevent pressure ulcers (saves 14,071 lives and $5.5 billion a year);

• Implement safeguards and quality control measures to reduce medication errors (saves 4,620 lives and $2.3 billion a year);

• Use best practices to prevent patient falls in health care facilities (saves $1.5 billion a year);

• Use a checklist to prevent catheter infections (saves 15,680 lives and $1.3 billion a year);

• Modestly improve nurse staffing ratios (saves 5,000 lives and $242 million a year);

• Permit standing orders to increase flu and pneumococcal vaccinations in the elderly (saves 9,250 lives and $545 million a year);

• Use beta-blockers after heart attacks (saves 3,600 lives and $900,000 a year); and
• Increase use of advanced care planning (saves $3.2 billion a year).

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