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Pneumonia Deaths Down in Hospitals

By Jane Norman, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

August 4, 2011 -- Pneumonia deaths among patients in hospitals plunged by 45 percent between 2000 and 2007, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reported Thursday.

By 2007, the average U.S. death rate attributed to pneumonia in hospitals fell from 74 deaths per 1,000 admissions to 41 deaths per 1,000 admissions, the agency said. The lowest death rate in 2007 was in Arizona, followed by Maryland.

However, eight states still reported 50 or more deaths per 1,000 admissions in 2007: Nebraska, Wyoming, Hawaii, West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New York and Vermont. Nebraska topped the list with 57 deaths per 1,000 admissions.

The statistics included all people over 18 years of age, including Medicare enrollees. Older adults are at the highest risk for pneumonia, and they have the highest rates of hospitalization for the illness, says AHRQ.

Ernest Moy, a medical officer at AHRQ, said in an interview that the improvement is likely tied to the emphasis on quality of care that’s been a priority for federal officials. Pneumonia is one condition that’s been particularly stressed, he said. But beyond that, the agency can’t pinpoint reasons for the improvement, he said.

It’s important that states see the statistics and it might lead to more self-examination among those that aren’t doing as well, Moy said.

Quality improvement is key in battling pneumonia in hospitals, researchers say. The agency reported earlier this year on a study that found that rates of pneumonia in hospital intensive care units in Michigan among patients on ventilators decreased. The improvement was tied to tools to improve communication and teamwork among staff members, as well as the use of checklists and additional hand washing.

Measures recommended by Medicare to improve the quality of care for people with pneumonia include giving patients antibiotics within six hours of when they arrive at the hospital, getting the results of a blood culture before giving a patient antibiotics, and determining whether a patient has received a pneumonia vaccine.

The proportion of Americans 65 and older who were vaccinated against pneumonia increased from 53 percent to 58 percent between 2000 and 2007. But federal officials want to see that rate rise to 90 percent for that age group.

Pneumonia Deaths by State

Jane Norman can be reached at [email protected] .  

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