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New focus on patient safety at UMass Memorial

Pledge at UMass Memorial


WORCESTER — The federal government yesterday kicked off regional efforts to prevent medical injuries and complications by asking doctors and hospitals to take a ceremonial pledge to do their part.

In the lobby of the ambulatory care building at UMass Memorial Medical Center’s University Campus, medical providers signed posters for a new $1 billion nationwide initiative called “Partnership for Patients.” The program aims to reduce medical mistakes by engaging people involved in health care and offering them technologies, analysis and other tools funded by the Obama administration’s health care reform.

“We really need to enhance our work and redouble our efforts,” said John G. O’Brien, president and chief executive of UMass Memorial Health Care. “I think we really need to embed the pledge in everything we do.”

The initiative tackles a well-known problem that includes everything from falls and drug errors to objects left behind inside patients during surgery. The Institute of Medicine reported in 1999 that as many as 98,000 people die every year in the United States from preventable medical errors and another 1 million are injured.

Since then, little has changed, said Christie L. Hager, regional director in New England for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“We’ve not made nearly the gains we should,” Ms. Hager said yesterday after the ceremony at UMass.

An estimated 13.5 percent of Medicare patients hospitalized in October 2008 suffered adverse events during their stays, according to a study released last year by the U.S. inspector general of health and human services. Researchers who studied 10 hospitals in North Carolina, a state involved in medical improvement efforts, reported last year in the New England Journal of Medicine that they found little evidence of progress over a six-year period ending in December 2007.

The federal government is aiming to reduce infections acquired by patients in hospitals by 40 percent by the end of 2013. Authorities estimate that would save more than 60,000 lives and cut injuries by 1.8 million. A second goal to prevent complications to reduce hospital readmissions by 20 percent by the end of 2013.

Some efforts to reduce medical errors have emphasized procedures and practices that doctors, nurses and hospitals can follow to do their jobs better.

Dr. Walter Ettinger, president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, said UMass Memorial doctors have developed new procedures to reduce infections associated with catheters placed in large veins, to reduce infections in deep chest wounds from heart surgeries, and to cut the death rate from aortic aneurysms. The cardiac team, he said, tackled infections in deep chest wounds partly by screening patients before surgery for bacteria in their noses.

“Over a thousand surgeries in the last three years, there has not been one infection,” Dr. Ettinger said. “They eradicated those infections.”

In Central Massachusetts, other entities signing on to the “Partnership for Patients” pledge include Southboro Medical Group of Atrius Health; Tri-Valley Inc. of Dudley; the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Worcester; and VNA Care Network & Hospice of Southboro, according to a list provided by the government.

The push for safer health care comes as pressure is also building to spend less on health care. Some calculations suggest that preventing errors and complications will lower medical spending. The government estimates the Partnership for Patients could slash spending by $50 billion over 10 years.

“We know it costs more to do things the wrong way than to do them the right way,” Ms. Hager said.

It’s unclear how much UMass Memorial did to impact medical spending by tackling infections and aortic aneurysms. Dr. Ettinger of UMass Memorial said he wanted doctors working on medical errors to concentrate on patient care and saving lives.

“I want these guys focused on reducing complications, not the cost,” he said.

(view Worcester Telegram & Gazette Article here)