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Hospital Fatality Rates Go Down

According to a U.S. health agency, hospital deaths from heart attacks and other critical conditions fell sharply in 2004 from a decade earlier. Overcrowding at hospitals means there are still unnecessary deaths, a doctors' group said.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said in a report that for every 1,000 patients, there were 43 fewer deaths from heart attacks. Deaths from congestive heart failure, pneumonia and stroke each dropped by about 30 per 1,000.

The agency report said that an estimated 136,000 patients that would have died from six conditions in 1994 survived their hospital stays in 2004. The decline in deaths is due to a number of reasons, together with hospitals paying more attention to quality of care, said Mamatha Pancholi, a research analyst with the agency.

"You're seeing more attention paid to the improvement of quality of care," Pancholi said in a telephone interview. Hospitals are also "taking advantage of improved treatment options and better technology.

The hospitals are also doing an improved job of accurately categorizing patient conditions and treatment "so we get better data on what's really happening," Pancholi said.

Separately, an emergency physicians' group said hospital overcrowding has deteriorated in the past year, leading to needless complications and deaths.

Half of 1,500 emergency room doctors reacting to a poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians said they were personally conscious of patients who had suffered since they had to wait for a bed, and 200 knew of patients who had died.

Eighty percent of the doctors surveyed said the practice they called "boarding," in which admitted emergency patients wait for an inpatient bed in the hospital, often in hallways, had got worse in the past year.

The report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the Health and Human Services Department, was based on patients who were admitted to the hospital for the particular condition examined.



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