Hospitals are doing a better job at keeping patients healthy, and it's partly due to reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act.
Hospitals prevented nearly 15,000 deaths and 560,000 injuries by reducing additional illnesses and infections acquired in the hospital, preliminary data from the Health and Human Services Department show. That would mean upward of $4 billion in overall health-spending savings between 2010 and 2012, according to Wednesday's report.
There were also 150,000 fewer hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries in 2012 and 2013, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says, meaning that fewer patients were having to go back to the hospital within 30 days of discharge in the last two years than between 2007 and 2011.
The improvements for patients are directly related to the Affordable Care Act's reforms, according to HHS and the American Hospital Association. The Affordable Care Act created the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, which funds projects aimed at reducing health costs and improving outcomes for patients.
Among the programs created by CMMI is the Partnership for Patients, a public-private initiative with the goal of reducing hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent and hospital readmissions by 20 percent between 2010 and 2014. Infection and readmission rates are tied to hospitals' Medicare pay, so there's a strong incentive for hospitals to improve outcomes for patients.
To get to that goal, hospitals are making changes to the way they interact with patients, the American Hospital Association said. Hospitals call patients after they leave the hospital to make sure that their recovery plan is clear and that they have a way to get their medications. Hospitals are also following up with primary-care physicians to make sure a patient's health is on track.
Another big change hospitals are making is to not allow mothers to deliver babies before they're due, which reduces risk. Rates of early elective births declined 64.5 percent between 2010 and 2013.
"If you deliver earlier, you have a higher likelihood of complications," said Maulik Joshi, the president of the Health Research and Educational Trust at the American Hospital Association. "The results in a short period of time are really phenomenal."
While some of these practices were in place in hospitals prior to the Affordable Care Act, according to the AHA, only now are the changes accelerating across the nation.