U.S. hospitals increased the number of “patient safety incidents” by three percent overall from 2003 to 2005, and where you seek treatment may make a huge difference in the outcome. The error gap between the nation’s best- and worst-performing hospitals remained wide, a report released Monday found. America’s top rated treatment centers had 40 percent lower rates of medical errors than the poorest-performing hospitals, the study showed.

The fourth annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study, put out by HealthGrades, an independent health care ratings company, examined over 40 million Medicare hospitalization records at almost 5,000 hospitals from 2003 to 2005.
The study found that there were 1.16 million patient safety incidents among Medicare patients during the three years of the study. That works out to an incidence rate of 2.86 percent. During those three years, there were 247,662 potentially preventable deaths in U.S. hospitals. Medicare patients involved in one or more safety incidents had a 25 percent chance of dying. The excess cost to Medicare associated with patient safety incidents was $8.6 billion from 2003 to 2005.
Sixteen types of patient-safety incidents were reviewed, and the rate of occurrence for ten types increased over the three years of the study, by an average of almost 12 percent. The greatest increases were in post-operative sepsis (about 34.3 percent); post-operative respiratory failure (18.7 percent); and selected infections due to medical care (about 12.2 percent).
Incidents with the highest occurrence rates were decubitus ulcer (pressure sores or commonly called bed sores); failure to rescue; and post-operative respiratory failure.
If all hospitals had performed at the same level as the top-rated hospitals, about 206,286 patient safety incidents and 34,393 Medicare patient deaths could have been avoided, resulting in $1.74 billion in savings.
To avoid becoming a statistic the next time you or a loved one visits a hospital, you may which to consider these recommendations:

  • If you have a choice, choose a hospital at which many patients have the procedure or surgery you need. Research shows that patients tend to have better results when they are treated in hospitals that have a great deal of experience with their condition.

  • If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who have direct contact with you whether they have washed their hands. Handwashing is an important way to prevent the spread of infections in hospitals.

  • When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will use at home. This includes learning about your medicines and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities. Research shows that at discharge time, doctors think their patients understand more than they really do about what they should or should not do when they return home.

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