Today marks three full years that the COVID-19 public health emergency has existed in the United States. That means for 1,097 days, hospitals and health care workers have been on the front lines doing all that they can to care for patients, save lives and protect communities.

Providers have shown great resilience and innovation in their delivery of health care, maximizing resources, and adjusting tactics and strategies in the face of formidable challenges.

Hospitals and health systems are deeply committed to delivering safe and quality care to each and every patient they serve.

This was the case before the pandemic. This was the case during the pandemic. And this will be the case after the pandemic.

However, the once-in-a-century pandemic has made it more challenging for hospitals and health systems to continue their quality improvement gains and impeded our ability to sustain the improvements in safety that had been made over the prior decade. For example, hospital reported data that was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed increases in several healthcare-associated infections in 2020 and 2021.

Nonetheless, we should recognize the fact that caregivers have made real strides in patient safety. Over the past several decades, hospitals have heightened their focus on continual improvement and have been transparent about sharing their progress in improving quality and safety. Hospitals have made bold changes to improve care quality and safety that have led to significant improvements.

For example:

  • From 2010-2019, the relative risk of experiencing an adverse event fell 41% for heart attack and surgery patients, 36% for pneumonia patients, 27% for heart failure patients, and 18% for patients with all other conditions, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported  last year.
  • Federal data show significant reductions in healthcare-associated infections from 2015-2019, including central line-associated bloodstream infections, MRSA and catheter-associated urinary tract infections, among others.
  • Between 2014 and 2018, hospitals directly engaged in the AHA Hospital Improvement Innovation Network program prevented 141,000 harms and saved 14,000 lives, while at the same time saving $1.2 billion in health care costs.

Throughout the pandemic, hospitals and health systems often have had to: balance caring for an influx of COVID-19 patients while keeping the doors open to all others needing care; contend with shortages in supplies and personal protective equipment; operate with critical workforce shortages; and care for sicker patients (both with COVID-19 and without) who often had to spend longer periods of time in the hospital.

Hospitals and health systems are committed to redoubling their efforts to improve quality now and into the future because even one adverse event is one too many.

Among other actions, hospitals and health systems are working hard to:

  • Further reduce healthcare-associated infections;
  • Improve communication among providers and between the patient and caregivers, especially during care transitions;
  • Appropriately use opioids to protect patients from potential addiction; and
  • Connect quality and safety efforts to equity of care.

The AHA has worked with hospitals and health systems to share tools that help build a culture of patient safety, adopt best practices around infection prevention and other critical safety topics, and share learnings so that hospitals can learn from each other’s experiences in improving safety.

This work will continue as we strive toward achieving our vision of a just society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health.

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