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PA Hospitals penalized by federal government for high infection rates

In its toughest crackdown yet on medical errors, the federal government is cutting payments to 721 hospitals for having high rates of infections and other patient injuries, records released Thursday show.

Medicare assessed these new penalties against some of the most renowned hospitals in the nation, including the Cleveland Clinic, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa.

One out of every seven hospitals in the nation will have their Medicare payments lowered by 1 percent over the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and continues through September 2015. The health law mandates the reductions for the quarter of hospitals that Medicare assessed as having the highest rates of “hospital-acquired conditions,” or HACs. These conditions include infections from catheters, blood clots, bed sores and other complications that are considered avoidable.

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The penalties, which are estimated to total $373 million, are falling particularly hard on academic medical centers: Roughly half of them will be punished, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis.

Dr. Eric Schneider, a Boston health researcher who has interviewed patient safety experts for his studies, said research has demonstrated that medical errors can be reduced through a number of techniques. But “there’s a pretty strong sense among the experts we talked to that they are not widely implemented,” he said. Those methods include entering physician orders into computers rather than scrawling them on paper, better hand hygiene and checklists on procedures to follow during surgeries. “Too many clinicians fail to use those techniques consistently,” he said.

The penalties come as the hospital industry is showing some success in reducing avoidable errors. A recent federal report found the frequency of mistakes dropped by 17 percent between 2010 and 2013, an improvement U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell called “a big deal, but it’s only a start.” Even with the reduction, one in eight hospital admissions in 2013 included a patient injury, according to the report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, or AHRQ.

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