Last Sunday there was a great article (registration required) in the Star Tribune about efforts Allina has made to reduce operating costs and increase revenue through patient safety, quality and patient flow improvements.  It was reported that medical errors alone cost the Allina hospital system $20 million per year, and extend patient stays 32,000 bed days.

Allina has taken a holistic approach, attacking safety, quality and flow problems from all sides. By targeting expensive and high risk DRGs like ventilator-associated pneumonia Using a patient flow software application from NaviCare (since acquired by Hill-Rom) United hospital has dramatically improved flow, saving $5 million in two years. They have increased surveillance of at risk patients by monitoring patients outside traditional areas to facilitate more timely, effective (and much less expensive) interventions when patients get into trouble. They are currently planning to implement "smart pumps" to improve IV therapy safety. Of course meaningful and persistent improvements require more than just buying a bunch of cool technology:

Improving hospital safety involves a culture change. Greater levels of teamwork are stressed. The hierarchy is flattened. More input from nurses is encouraged. Back and forth communication between the care providers becomes vital.

"Other organizations have found satisfaction goes up, turnover goes down and clinical outcomes improve in a teamwork climate," said Alison Page, vice president of patient safety for Fairview Health Services.

These efforts saved them $7.5 million last year.