Hospital care was getting safer before pandemic hit, study shows

Rates of in-hospital adverse events fell significantly in the 10 years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a federal study published July 12 in JAMA.

HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality conducted the study, which involved an analysis of nearly 245,000 patients treated at more than 3,100 hospitals between 2010 and 2019. Researchers tracked rates for 21 adverse events over the study period, making it the most comprehensive analysis of in-hospital adverse events to date. 

Between 2010 and 2019, rates of adverse events fell 36 percent for heart attack patients, 31 percent for heart failure patients, 39 percent for pneumonia patients and 36 percent for major surgery patients. Rates were stable for a fifth group of patients representing all other conditions.

The findings come amid calls from CMS, CDC and other safety leaders for healthcare organizations to rebuild the foundations for safe care that deteriorated during the pandemic. 

"These study results indicate that we know how to improve patient safety by working together and that we can sustain those results over time," AHRQ Director Robert Otto Valdez, PhD, said in a news release. "The pandemic has undoubtedly put those successes at risk, but this study should provide motivation for healthcare officials to rebuild and rededicate ourselves to a patient and provider safety doctrine."

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