Are Hospital Stays Getting Safer?

Feb 5, 2014

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A new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine says that hospital stays may be getting safer, at least if you're admitted for a heart condition. 

Researchers used medical record data for more than 61,000 patients from 2005 to 2011. They studied more than 20 common problems patients typically encounter after admission to a hospital -- things like drug reactions, bed sores, and infection.

Researchers studied more than 20 common problems patients typically encounter after admission to a hospital.

Mark Metersky, a doctor at the UConn School of Medicine, co-authored the study, which was conducted by Qualidigm. "Our patient population was divided into four types of patients," he said. "[They were] patients in the hospital for heart attack; congestive heart failure; pneumonia; and for surgery. What we found is that among patients with heart failure and heart attack, the rates overall dropped quite significantly."

According to the study, the rate of heart attack patients encountering one or more hospital-related problem fell from 26 percent to 19.4 percent, and heart failure patients saw a similar statistically-significant improvement (17.5 to 14.2 percent).

Less encouraging were the results for patients admitted for pneumonia or generalized surgery, where rates of things like bed sores, bleeding, and urinary tract infections remained largely unchanged over the six-year period. "The fact that a patient had one of these events does not necessarily mean that they received poor care," Metersky said. "Patients in the hospital are very sick, often complex. Despite best care, some bad events are going to happen."

Metersky said it's encouraging that the medical community is making progress at reducing inpatient hospital complications, but cautioned there is still "a lot of work" left. "Things can be done to make patients more safe," he said. "To a certain extent, these results help to find which patients, and which events, still need the most work, where we're not making progress."

A 1999 Institutes of Medicine report estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 patients die each year from preventable complications in hospitals.