Think you know AARP? What you don't know about us may surprise you. Discover all the 'Real Possibilities'


America's Winter Escapes Sweepstakes
Introducing RealPad by AARP
You and Your Town Contest-You could win an AARP RealPad


AARP Auto Buying Program

Download the ipad App



Piggy bank on the road - AARP Driver Safety

Take the new AARP Smart Driver Course!

Contests and

Safe Driving in 2014 Sweepstakes

Learn how AARP Driver Safety can help you stay safe—and enter for a chance to win $1,000. See official rules. 


AARP Games - Play Now!


Planning for Long-Term Care for Dummies

Get expert advice on planning for your own or a relative’s future care needs.


Learn From the Experts

Sign up now for an upcoming webinar or find materials from a past session.

Learning centers

Get smart strategies for managing health conditions.



Heart Disease


Most Popular


share your thoughts

What does the health care law mean to you? Your story is important. We read and learn from every story and it helps us in our educational efforts. We may even use your comments (with permission) to brief legislators, inspire readers and more. Please share your story with us. Do

Hospitals May Be the Worst Place to Stay When You're Sick

Plus, how to protect yourself from medical errors

Jumbo jet taking a nose dive. The number of patients who die each year from hospital errors is equal to 4 jumbo jets crashing each week.

— Photo by Getty Images

But then, in a program launched in 2004, more than 100 Michigan intensive care units managed to reduce these infections by two-thirds — and save some 1,500 lives in just 18 months — using a short checklist of practices for handling the catheters, and a culture change aimed at getting all staff on board. Hospitals around the country then took up the challenge, and the results were impressive.

The trouble is, there are plenty of other problems that may not be susceptible to an approach that tests a simple process that can then be used nationwide. A recent program looking at lapses that could lead to surgery on the wrong section of the patient found that errors can creep in just about anywhere, from scheduling to the marking of the surgical site. A couple of hospitals, for example, were using pens whose ink washed off during surgical prep, making the marks useless. Flaws in this process vary from one hospital or surgery center to another, says Mark Chassin, M.D., president of the Joint Commission, the major accrediting organization for hospitals.

Other, apparently straightforward problems — like health care workers not washing their hands — have proved surprisingly stubborn. Only about half of hospital workers follow hand-washing guidelines, despite excellent staff training and ubiquitous hand sanitizer dispensers at many hospitals, says Robert Wachter, M.D., a patient safety expert at the University of California, San Francisco. He points out an airline pilot would be disciplined or fired for ignoring safety rules. But while penalizing careless individuals remains controversial — and largely untried — in health care, activists have made hospitals more accountable.

Public reporting of hospital performance, more or less unheard of a decade ago, has been an important strategy. Twenty-nine states now require public reporting of hospital infection rates, and 28 require some information on medical errors. The HHS website has now added a key catheter infection rate, along with other results.

There are hundreds of ways to measure safety performance, from death rates after heart surgery to whether doctors gave the right antibiotic. What to report has been a major debate. Infection rates, initially resisted by hospitals, are now generally regarded as some of the most reliable data available to the public, since in most cases reports are made through a standard system developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Money may be another motivator for hospitals. In 2008 Medicare took the small step of restricting payments to hospitals for extra costs associated with 10 hospital-acquired conditions. This year it will begin giving extra money to hospitals that score the highest on a set of standards linked to better results for patients.

Next: How can you protect yourself from hospital errors? »

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts


Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Related Video

Lives are saved by following simple checklists before and during surgery.

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Grandson (8-9) whispering to grandfather, close-up

Members can save 20% on hearing aids with the AARP® Hearing Care Program provided by HearUSA.

AARP/Walgreens Wellness Bus Stops in Clarksdale, MS

Members can get exclusive points offers from Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Member Benefits

Join or renew today! AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.

Rewards for Good

Your Points Balance:

Learn More

Earn points for completing free online activities designed to enrich your life.

Find more ways to earn points

Redeem your points to save on merchandise, travel, and more.

Find more ways to redeem points