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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2011

Safety saves lives, money

HEALTH-care costs climb with every new medical test and procedure that providers order. But Ohio hospitals are learning that a culture change aimed at enhancing patient safety can hold down costs as well.

A partnership that includes eight children's hospitals in the state, scores of adult-care hospitals, a major health-care corporation, and the Ohio Business Roundtable is showing how hospitals can prevent medical complications by emphasizing basic practices.

For two years, the coalition - called Solutions for Patient Safety - has focused on how best to reduce the rate of avoidable, expensive, and potentially deadly complications. Cardinal Health contributed $1.5 million to conduct training and other efforts to enhance patient care and recovery.

The coalition placed primary emphasis on something as simple as getting hospital employees to wash their hands more - and it paid off. A progress report estimated that hospitals in the program saved $12.8 million in care costs by keeping caregivers' hands cleaner.

Patients were healthier and had shorter hospital stays. The children's hospitals credited stringent, closely monitored, and recorded hand-washing with controlling infections in several thousand patients.

The preventive program also emphasizes harm reduction by curbing medication errors. That includes such things as administering more accurate doses of medication with better pumps, and double-checking every medication order without fail.

Businesses and hospitals worked together to make other simple changes, such as installing hundreds more dispensers of hand sanitizers. These also made a big difference in patient welfare and significantly lower health-care costs. Self-examination in other areas should continue to bring dividends in improved care.

The Ohio partnership hopes to share what it has learned with a much wider audience. It has a lot of good ideas about how to reduce avoidable illnesses and deaths with cost-effective preventive measures.

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