U.S. health systems have reduced hospital-acquired conditions (HAC) 17 percent from 2010 to 2014, saving $19.8 billion in health care costs, according to a new report.  The decline means that there were 2.1 million fewer cases of HACs than if the 2010 rate of 145 incidents per 1,000 discharges remained steady.

HACs include adverse drug events, health care-associated infections, patient falls among others. The report says that reducing such events over the last four years has saved 87,000 lives.

Data from AHRQ
HAC rates from 2010 to interim 2014

"Patients in America's hospitals are safer today as a result of this partnership with hospitals and health care providers," says Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. "The Affordable Care Act has given us tools to build a better health care system that protects patients, improves quality and makes the most of our health care dollars."

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), part of HHS, says the increase in patient safety has occurred during a period of concerted attention by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events, many of which can lead to reduced Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates.

"Hospitals work diligently every day to provide the best possible care for the patients they serve," says Rick Pollack, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association. "These new numbers are impressive and show the great progress hospitals continue to make. While there is always more work to be done to improve patient safety, the collaborative efforts of hospitals and HHS have delivered great results that will continue to help the field on the quality improvement journey."

Although health systems have made strides on this issue, AHRQ also states that there is still more work to be done.  While 2014's HAC rate is 17 percent less than 2010, it also is unchanged from 2013. Of the $19.8 billion in health care costs saved, $16 billion of that occurred in 2013 and 2014. HHS data show that it is possible to make substantial progress in reducing virtually all types of HACs simultaneously.