Beyond Ebola—How Safe Is Your Hospital?

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The media frenzy over Ebola has focused a glaring spotlight on hospitals across the country this fall. One man has died from the virus in the United States, and a handful of nurses have been infected. And even though the chance of a large-scale U.S. outbreak is tiny, nearly 36 percent of Americans said they are worried that a family member will contract Ebola, according to today’s  Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Maybe instead of Ebola, though, what we should be concerned about are the preventable hospital errors that kill more than 1,000 people every day. We’re talking about medication mistakes, surgical errors (like operating on the wrong limb) and other injuries. Some studies suggest that up to a third of all hospital admissions result in harm to a patient.

The Hospital Safety Score report card, released today by the nonprofit Leapfrog Group, allows you to check out your hospital’s safety rating. The group assigns hospitals an A-through-F grade based on the hospitals’ ability to prevent errors, injuries and infections. (To get the full report card for your area’s hospitals, go to  hospitalsafetyscore.org.)

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The report, released each year, found that overall there’s been an improvement in measures such as hand hygiene and physician staffing in intensive care units, but unfortunately there has been little progress in important outcomes such as prevention of surgical-site infections or (gulp) items being inadvertently left in patients after surgery.

Hospitals in Maine get the best record for patient safety, says Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder, and Massachusetts hospitals, such as Massachusetts General, consistently get high marks.

Surprisingly, she says, “big-name hospitals don’t always do well on safety.” The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio got a C, as did UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center. For the third time in a row, none of the hospitals in the District of Columbia — where I happen to live — received an A grade. In contrast, Binder calls Baptist Hospital in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., the “little engine that could,” for being a small hospital that “really works hard” for an A score.

Binder said some hospitals have worked especially hard this year to improve. Paradise Valley Hospital in Phoenix went from a C to an A. New Mexico was previously one of the poorest performing states, with no A hospitals, yet this year three of the state’s hospitals got an A mark.

Top 10 States for Patient Safety


  1. Maine
  2. Massachusetts
  3. Virginia
  4. New Jersey
  5. Florida
  6. Illinois
  7. California
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Tennessee
  10. Colorado

 

Binder says it’s too early to tell whether all the attention on hospitals because of Ebola will improve patient safety. The protocols for containing Ebola infection are “very specialized,” she said, and they take specific training, but “having a heightened awareness of whether hospitals are disciplined places that follow rules is good.”

Some infectious disease specialists are saying the extra attention on infection control may very well make a difference.

Scott Mahan, an infectious disease physician and head of infection control at Charles George VA Hospital in Ashville, N.C., wrote in a recent blog post that the Ebola crisis may have a silver lining for hospitals across the country. Mahan, who has worked to treat and prevent diseases in Africa and happens to be a high school friend, says he’s getting more than 100 emails a day regarding Ebola, and that his hospital is spending thousands of dollars and hundreds of training hours preparing for an unlikely outbreak in the mountains of North Carolina, in part because “everyone is scared.”

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But, he points out, hospital acquired infections cause more than 75,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Hopefully, the time spent focusing on properly putting on and taking off protective gear, hand hygiene and improving communication between staff will reap benefits that extend well beyond Ebola preparedness.”

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