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Feb 07, 2014

Improvements in Heart Patient Safety Among U.S. Hospitals

Study finds fewer complications among patients hospitalized for heart attack or heart failure between 2005 and 2011.

Although we know more today about health care than ever before, complications during hospital stays remain a major challenge in hospitals across the country. No matter how small, complications that arise during hospital stays are costly and can increase a patient’s risk of death. But according to a recent study, we’ve made some headway in recent years in improving patient safety in U.S. hospitals. 

Recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, this study analyzed the medical records of more than 61,500 Medicare patients hospitalized between 2005 and 2011 to see if patient safety improved over this time period. Patients included in the study were hospitalized for one of four common reasons: heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia or surgery. By looking at medical records, researchers were able to determine which patients experienced complications like an infection or a bad reaction to a drug during their hospital stay.

After comparing rates of complications during this six-year period, researchers found that risk of complications significantly decreased among heart attack and heart failure patients. For heart attack patients, the rate of complications decreased from 5% to 3.7% during this time period and among heart failure patients, risk of complications decreased from 3.7% to 2.7%. However, there were no significant changes in risk of complications among patients hospitalized for pneumonia or surgery.

On one hand, experts are encouraged by these findings. Between 2001 and 2011, the government spent roughly $532 million for research on patient safety and a number of new laws were passed to improve patient safety. It’s clear that these efforts were not in vain, as we’ve seen significant improvements in patient safety for heart attack and heart failure patients during this time period.

Still, authors push for further efforts to improve patient safety across the board. Surgery and pneumonia are two of the most common causes of hospitalization and the more we can improve patient safety, the better. Researchers hope that by closely monitoring rates of complications, we can continue to improve patient safety for all hospital patients, regardless of their health condition.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is patient safety?
  • Patient safety is a term used to describe the delivery of quality health care. It is often defined as the “prevention of harm to patients” and the goal of patient safety efforts is to avoid accidental or preventable injuries that result from medical care, like during a hospital stay.


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