HHS Launches Nationwide Initiative To Reduce Medical Errors

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imageThe Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) last week announced the launch of Partners for Patients, a new program aimed at eliminating medical errors and reducing healthcare costs on a national scale.

Developed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the program could slash up to $50 billion in costs associated with prevented medical errors as well as help to save 60,000 lives over the next three years, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

HHS will initially invest $1 billion in the program, which Sibelius says has been earmarked for a total medical error elimination demonstration project and a nationwide education program. Major hospitals, employers, health plans, physicians, nurses, and patient advocates have pledged commitment to the initiative, whose initial goals encompass cutting hospital-acquired infections in Medicare patients by 40% and readmission by 20% over the next three years, Sebelius reports. Under the program umbrella, hospitals will be asked to focus on nine types of medical errors and complications, including  adverse drug reactions, pressure ulcers, childbirth complications, and surgical site infections, she said.

A statement issued by Donald Berwick, MD, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), says the program is “not about blaming health care providers for medical errors, but about supporting them through spreading knowledge of best practices, transparency and very thoughtfully, respectfully providing incentives for providers that reduce medical errors.”

The “workforce is not the problem," Berwick says, adding that “millions get injured because of defects in the system” and “despite the heroic efforts of providers." He claims HHS will not approach the program as "one size fits all," but rather will focus on developing local strategies because a “top-down approach” will not work.

An innovation center component of the program will aid hospitals in adopting effective, evidence-based care improvements to target preventable patient injuries on a local level, as well as in developing innovative approaches to spreading and sharing strategies among public and private partners in all states. In addition, a pilot to be launched by CMS within the next few months will involve vanguard healthcare organizations striving to eliminate virtually all medical errors, Berwick asserts.

But achieving even the minimal goals will require a culture change from providers, education on best practices, and execution on a national scale, Berwick emphasizes."We are in this together.,” he concludes. “We have to be in this together. The enemy is not each other; the enemy is harm itself."