WASHINGTON - Improved patient safety and fewer mistakes at U.S. hospitals saved the lives of roughly 50,000 people from 2011 to 2013, the Obama administration reported Tuesday.
Incidents of hospital-induced harm - such as adverse drug events, infections, falls, and bedsores - fell by 17 percent, or an estimated 1.3 million episodes, from 2010.
The improvements, driven by a number of public and private initiatives, saved an estimated $12 billion in health-care spending, according to a new government report that found dramatic progress in the fight to curb preventable medical injuries at U.S. hospitals.
Of the estimated 50,000 fewer deaths, a decline in bedsores, or pressure ulcers, helped save roughly 20,300 lives. A drop in adverse drug events - such as overdoses or administering the wrong medication - saved 11,500.
Fewer falls by hospitalized patients saved 6,400 lives, the study found.
In a speech Tuesday in Baltimore, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said the new HHS estimates represented "historic progress on health-care quality."
"A 17 percent reduction in hospital-acquired conditions is a big deal, but it's only a start," Burwell said. "No American should ever lose his or her life, or spend the holidays in the hospital, because of a condition that could have been prevented."
HHS analysts looked at 18,000 to 33,000 medical records for each of the three years covered by the study. They estimate that nearly 10 percent of hospitalized patients in the United States experienced one or more of the numerous hospital-acquired conditions they were looking for.
Hospital-induced harm to patients has been a cloud over the U.S. health-care system for decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that two million people each year suffer hospital-acquired infections, such as bloodstream and urinary tract disorders from catheters.
In 2010, the government estimated that 27 percent of hospitalized Medicare patients sustained injuries associated with their care. About half the incidents were preventable.
In 2011 and 2012, preventable medical episodes associated with hospital care fell 9 percent, HHS reported last May.
"Never before have we been able to bring so many hospitals, clinicians, and experts together to share in a common goal: improving patient care," said Rich Umbdenstock, president and CEO of the American Hospital Association.
The Affordable Care Act also has provisions that provide incentives for hospitals to cut readmissions among Medicare patients.