Medical errors and infections have dropped significantly over the past few years, results of a report issued by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicate.

According to the report, between 2010 and 2013, the rate of errors dropped 17%, preventing 500,000 unnecessary deaths, and saving $12 billion in health spending.

The focus on improvement was spurred by the landmark 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that found that about 100,000 patients die each year from medical errors. More recent studies have quadrupled that number.

 The current improvement initiative began in 2011 with funding from the Affordable Care Act. Over the past few years, hospitals have worked with the federal government and patient advocates, among others, to reduce errors, improve quality of care, and prevent hospital readmissions.

“…Results are welcome news for patients and their families,” said Sylvia M. Burwell, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“These data represent significant progress in improving the quality of care that patients receive while spending our health care dollars more wisely. HHS will work with partners across the country to continue to build on this progress.”

According to the report, the most progress occurred in 2013. Almost 35,000 fewer people died in United States hospitals and there were about 800,000 fewer incidents of harm than in 2010 — resulting in a savings of about $8 billion.

Ann W. Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.