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Losing Patience over Losing Patients

APRIL 29, 2005 -- Slightly more than a year from now, a fast-growing movement of hospitals, medical societies, and government agencies aims to have saved its 100,000th life by improving the way health care is delivered in the nation's medical facilities. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it will help out by lending its expertise in preventing and monitoring hospital-based infections.

Called the 100,000 Lives Campaign, the project is the brainchild of Donald Berwick, M.D., head of the Cambridge, Mass.–based Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Berwick is angry about the failure of the health care system to apply what is known about how to reduce medical errors and improve the quality of care.

He sees the setting of a specific goal as a flashpoint for action by the many doctors and hospitals he says share his frustration. He may be right; four months after announcing the campaign, the institute has almost met its goal of enlisting 2,000 hospitals in the effort.

By June 2006, the initiative aims to save the 100,000 lives by making six types of improvements in hospitals: creating "rapid response" teams that quickly mobilize to provide care when a patient's condition unexpectedly deteriorates; following proven procedures for treating heart attack patients; using validated processes to prevent ventilator-acquired pneumonia; preventing infections through the proper use of catheters; preventing infections in surgery patients through correctly timed use of antibiotics; and preventing dangerous drug interactions. Berwick estimates that the six improvements would save 230 lives per year in a 500-bed hospital.

CDC said its main activity will be to help the institute gather data tracking the progress of hospitals in the six areas of improvement. The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, the Veterans Health Administration, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) also have endorsed the campaign.

Separately, AHRQ has launched a Web site,, designed to provide a single national source of information on patient safety resources and research. The portal allows a particular type of provider, say an anesthesiologist, to set up the site to learn about the latest research studies, news, programs, and conferences relevant to improving patient safety in his or her specialty.

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