The Centers for Disease Control has reported that nearly 1 million patient-safety incidents, including infections that patients acquired in hospitals, occurred among Medicare patients over the years 2006, 2007, 2008. In all, the incidents -- which represented 2.3 percent of Medicare admissions -- were associated with $8.9 billion in costs. One of every 10 patients involved died as a result, the "HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals" study reported.
Financially squeezed hospitals should be careful about reducing nursing staff, because the fewer such staff they have, the more likely they are to have a patient-safety incident, says Kevin Kavanagh, a Somerset doctor and board chairman of Health Watch USA, in "Moving Healthcare Quality Forward with Nursing-Sensitive Value-Based Purchasing," an article in the Journal of Nursing Scholarship. Kavanagh explains that research has shown that adverse events in hospitals and any subsequent mortality "are highly dependent on nurse staffing levels and skill mix." He cites studies in which nurse staffing levels were a clear indicator of whether or not patient-safety accidents or "sentinel" events occurred. (Examples of "sentinel" events include falls, pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections, postoperative infections, pneumonia, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, shock and cardiac arrest.)
Kavanagh's article notes that nursing is at serious risk from being cut in cost-driven healthcare delivery systems. He is quick to point out the dangers and financial costs of making that cut. (To read the study, go here.)
So, how to report on this issue? In 2011, The Las Vegas Sun revealed that during the second half of 2009 area hospitals had reported 44 preventable hospital injuries or hospital-acquired infections when, in fact, those facilities had experienced 342 such events. That revelation led the paper's staff to take on the issue of hospital accountability in an award-winning five-part series, "Do No Harm: Hospital Care in Las Vegas." When all was said and done, the newspaper not only unearthed repeated incidences where the hospitals' own records did not reconcile with what they reported to the state, but showed lawmakers and health-care professionals how to properly disclose the incidence of patient infection and accidents. Their work eventually forced Nevada lawmakers to pass legislation that requires hospital records in two of the state's largest counties to be transparent, consumer-friendly and readily available on the state's Health and Human Services Department website. (To read their remarkable work, go here.)