Today the federal government, with much fanfare, unveiled a new plan to make health care safer that could save 60,000 lives and as much as $35 billion over the next three years. One important issue conspicuously missing from the rollout: any mention of letting patients know how things are going.
Already, 500 hospitals have signed on to the effort, called Partnership for Patients, and the government is getting ready to hand out $1 billion in grants to health-care organizations to help them figure out the best ways to reduce mistakes like hospital infections, medication errors, or sloppy “discharge planning” that sends patients boomeranging back to the hospital soon after they go home.
We talked to Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumer Reports’ Safe Patient Project, about the new initiative. Here are some highlights of the conversation:
Is this initiative good news for consumers?
It is. We estimate medical harm affects at least 9 million people a year. Between one in 3 and one in 4 people are being harmed when they go to the hospital. We hope this spotlight by the national government will help address this national crisis.
How is this new program going to force hospitals to become safer places?
The Affordable Care Act has some pretty specific payment incentives coming down the pike, connecting reimbursement with things like infection and readmission rates. If you’re in the bottom group with high rates, you’re going to get your payments cut. This initiative is helping hospitals get ready for things to come.
How will patients find out if it’s working?
We think some public reporting is in the works, but they certainly weren’t talking about it today. What we don’t want is for the government to come out four years from now and announce they’ve hit their target nationwide, in the aggregate. That doesn’t help me find out of my hospital met that goal. If we don’t motivate hospitals to improve, they won’t improve. And one way to do that is to require each one to measure and publicly report results.
But isn’t the government already reporting some safety information?
Yes, they’re collecting information on 10 hospital-acquired conditions, including some infections, foreign objects left in the body following surgery, and serious bedsores. They released some of that information recently, though in a form that ordinary consumers probably can’t use. But eventually they’re going to put it on Hospital Compare on the Medicare website. And in 2012, we will begin seeing national reports on one type of bloodstream infection occurring in ICUs, similar to what many states are currently reporting. But there’s a lot more that the federal government could be measuring and publicly reporting to help consumers get a full picture of their hospital’s safety. It is important for consumers to call for and expect more accountability.
Partnership for Patients: Better Care, Lower Costs [Healthcare.gov]