After a decade of increasing scrutiny over medical errors, particularly preventable ones, strides have been made towards reducing such errors. In fact, the federal government recently announced that the national number of preventable hospital mistakes in hospitals had dropped 17% between 2010 and 2013.

Despite these advances, the number of patients affected by these errors is still too high. To combat this, the federal government has enacted its toughest crackdown yet — cutting Medicare payments to 721 hospitals across the United States for having high rates of preventable medical errors. The penalty means that those hospitals (amounting to one out of every seven in the country) will have their Medicare payments lowered by 1% over the fiscal year.

The mandate involves hospitals that have the highest rate of “hospital-acquired conditions,” which include central-line associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and serious complications including blood clots, bed sores, and other infections considered preventable.

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The penalties are harsher than any that preceded it, and are estimated to total $373 million. About half of the major teaching hospitals in the country were penalized, including Ronald Reagan University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Medical Center and Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles; Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta; Northwestern Memorial Hospital and University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago; and George Washington University Hospital and Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

According to an analysis of the penalties, Medicare penalized a third or more of hospitals in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington and the District of Columbia.

In future assessments, Medicare plans to examine more types of injuries. In the fall of 2015, Medicare will add surgical site infections to its analysis, and the following year it will examine frequency of antibiotic resistant superbugs Clostridium difficile and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

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


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  3. Sisson P et al. (Jan. 10, 2015). 8 local hospitals fined for errors. U-T San Diego. Retrieved from