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Group Ranks Maine Hospitals Safest in Nation
10/23/2013   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

Maine has the safest hospitals in the country, according to a study released today. It's the second year in a row that the state received an overall 'A' score from a group that keeps tabs on hospital safety. But as Patty Wight reports, those in charge of the research say even top-ranking hospitals have more work to do to improve quality and ensure patient safety.

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The national non-profit Leapfrog Group tracks hospital safety by examining two sets of criteria: One, says Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder, is hospital structure and management - things like staffing levels and computer systems. The other is how often so-called 'never' events happen - essentially, things you would never want to happen in a hospital.

"And I'll give you an example of a never event: a foreign object left in the body after surgery, a sponge left in," Binder says. "Most of us don't like to think that could ever happen. Unfortunately, that is more common than any of us would like to hear about, frankly."

Binder says Mainers should take pride that the state's hospitals are ranked the safest in the nation. Jeff Austin of the Maine Hospital Association says one reason Maine hospitals fare so well is that they set high safety standards, and frequently meet to share best practices.

"Even though, technically, they're competitive on very many things, when it comes to quality they work together," Austin says.

Still, Binder says, even for top-scoring hospitals, there is ample room for improvement. "As many as 400,000 people die every year from preventable errors and accidents in hospitals," she says, "which means that, basically, the equivalent of the population of Miami is dying every year from these errors."

Binder says the most common source of errors is medication. She says if patients don't have a friend or loved one who can act as an advocate, they need to act as their own. Even something as basic as asking what medication you're being given is important.

"And don't be afraid to ask every single time," she says. "If you're getting a medication every four hours, every four hours you ask, 'What is this medication? What is it for?' And make sure you understand the answer, and you agree with it."

Binder says the most important step hospitals can take to increase safety is to strive to improve every day, and never let their guard down. Nancy Morris of the Maine Health Management Coalition says payment reform would also help.

"You know, if a hosptial that performs poorly, it doesn't really impact their bottom line - they still get paid," Morris says. "And in other coutnries they pay the hospitals based on their performance, so if they don't do a good job, they eventually can't survive."

Morris says that would help address safety, as well as the overall quality of hospital care. She says some provisions of the Affordable Care Act address those concerns, but don't go far enough.


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