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Hospitals Trying To Cut Errors, Save Lives

A hospital campaign to reduce lethal errors has saved an estimated 122,300 lives over the past 18 months, said the leader of the national effort.

Dr. Donald Berwick, a Harvard professor who organized the campaign, announced the results last Wednesday at a hospital conference in Atlanta. “I think this campaign signals no less than a new standard of health care in America,” he said.

Approximately 3,100 hospitals – 75 percent of the nation's acute care beds – participated in the initiative, which required the hospitals to provide mortality data and to carry out certain measures that prevent infections and mistakes.


“We in health care have never seen or experienced anything like this,” said Dr. Dennis O'Leary, president of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

The campaign was initiated on the wake of a widely publicized national report estimating that as many as 98,000 Americans die annually as a result of errors and sub-standard care.

In 1999, the same year the report was released, Berwick challenged leaders in the health care industry to improve the quality of care and prevent errors. Five years later in December 2004, Berwick announced the “100,000 Lives Campaign.”

The campaign, which had a June 2006 deadline, aimed to sign up at least 2,000 hospitals to implement six error-reducing changes.

Berwick said that nearly one third of the hospitals implemented all six of the measures and more than one half implemented at least three.

Some of the error-reducing strategies included: the deployment of rapid response teams for patients whose vital signs suddenly deteriorate, the implementation of surgical guidelines to prevent surgical site infections, and the checking and rechecking of patient medication to reduce drug errors.

After examining the data submitted by participating hospitals, campaign workers concluded that the changes saved about 122, 342 lives.

According to Berwick, that number represents an estimation and not an actual count of lives saved. Other estimates placed the number of lives saved between 115,000 and 149,000.

Berwick encouraged the hospitals to continue to improve. He also proposed a new challenge – that all hospitals implement the six error-reducing strategies by the beginning of next year.

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