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Government watchdog: 1 in 4 older Americans on Medicare harmed during hospital stays

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One in four older Americans covered by Medicare had some type of temporary or lasting harm during hospital stays before the COVID-19 pandemic, government investigators said in an oversight report published Thursday. 

The report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General said 12% of patients had “adverse events” that mainly led to longer hospital stays but also permanent harm, death or required life-saving intervention. Another 13% had temporary issues that could have caused further complications had hospital staff not acted.

Investigators reviewed the medical records of 770 Medicare patients discharged from 629 hospitals in 2018 to formulate a national rate on how often patients were harmed, whether preventable or not. An earlier Inspector General review found 27% of patients experienced some type of harm – an investigation that led to new patient safety efforts and incentives. 

The incremental improvement follows intense focus on patient safety since at least 1999 when the then-Institute of Medicine published To Err is Human, a landmark report that estimated up to 98,000 deaths per year could be due to medical errors. Initiatives have since sought to improve patient safety by limiting medical errors, reducing medication mix-ups and holding hospitals with a poor record of patient safety accountable through Medicare's program to dock the pay of the worst performers on a list of safety measures. 

While Inspector General investigators noted improvements in certain safety measures, officials said the 25% harm rate is concerning and deserves renewed attention from hospitals and two federal agencies that oversee patient safety: the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

"We still have a significant way to go in terms of improving patient safety," said Amy Ashcraft, a deputy regional inspector general. 

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Source: USA Today News, 12 May 2022

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