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AHRQ Credits EHRs, Health IT in Helping Decrease HACs

AHRQ finds that HACs have decreased by nearly 17 percent between 2010 and 2014, reducing healthcare spending by about $19.8 billion.

By Sara Heath

A new report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) credits EHR and health IT use for reduction in hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) in 2014.

Between 2010 and 2014, the healthcare industry reduced the number of HACs by nearly 17 percent. Additionally, the healthcare industry reduced the number of HACs by approximately 2 percent per year compared to the number of HACs that may have occurred had they continued to increase at the same rate as measured in 2010.

This reduction of HACs has potentially saved the lives of some 87,000 patients and saved the healthcare industry approximately $19.8 billion between 2010 and 2014.

A majority of the HAC reductions stemmed from the decrease of adverse drug events and pressure ulcers. Hospitals reduced HACs due to adverse drug events by nearly 40 percent and pressure ulcers by nearly 28 percent. Other notable reductions were for catheter-associated urinary tract infections, which was reduced by about 16 percent.

Additionally, most of the deaths averted and financial savings due to reduced HACs were results of a reduction in pressure ulcers. The reduction in pressure ulcers saved the healthcare industry nearly $10,030,000,000 between 2011 and 2014.

AHRQ described several different explanations for this reduction in HACs, including the widespread use of EHRs. Because more physicians are able to coordinate care with other members of a care team, as well as engage the patient in his or her healthcare, HACs are less likely to occur and patient safety is more apt to increase.

Additionally, the widespread use of EHRs allow physicians to analyze patient data and understand treatment options better. The use of EHRs also enable more public health reporting, which directly affects the way in which physicians approach the treatment of HACs.

“Numerous other public and private initiatives to improve healthcare quality and patient safety were implemented during these years; for example, the widespread implementation and improved use of Electronic Health Records at hospitals,” AHRQ explained. “And crucially, the progress was made possible by the results of investments made by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in producing evidence about how to make care safer, investing in tools and training to catalyze improvement, and investments in data and measures to be able to track change.”

AHRQ also explained that financial incentive programs offered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) may have contributed to the reduction in HACs as these incentive programs tend to put a specific emphasis on quality care, patient safety, and fee-for-service models.

AHRQ is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that collects and analyzes important data that provide insights into care quality and patient safety. Recently, Congress began discussions regarding certain healthcare agencies, such as AHRQ, that could potentially cut funding to these agencies or even shut them down. Both houses of the legislature have been discussing this agency.

These movements from Congress are facing opposition from several healthcare professional organizations, such as the American Hospital Association (AHA), American Telemedicine Association (ATA), ECRI Institute, and Healthcare Informatics Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

Several of these organizations have written letters to both the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee explaining and emphasizing the value of the information AHRQ offers the industry.

"Health services research — through AHRQ — needs a dedicated funding stream,” the four organizations wrote. “It’s the optimal way to ensure the generation of evidence and data to make the practice of health care safer, more effective, and more affordable for all Americans."

The Senate’s bill would potentially result in a 35 percent reduction in AHRQ’s funding. The House’s bill would potentially take things further by cutting the program entirely.

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