Hospital-acquired complications a serious issue

A new report is shining a spotlight on hospital-acquired complications (HACs), identifying 146,000 preventable cases in Australia in a single year. The consequences of these complications can be profound, the report says, creating significant increases in cost and length of stays.

The report has made four recommendations aimed at slashing those numbers, and called for a national data-driven approach. For anyone who has been the victim of hospital-acquired complications, any improvement will not be before time.

Should patients expect the unexpected?

When you head into a hospital, there’s a general expectation (or hope) that you’ll come out in better shape in a prescribed time frame. But that’s not always the case. Of course, it very much depends on the circumstances of your hospital attendance. If your admission is an emergency, pinpointing expected outcomes is difficult. But for planned surgery you’ll probably be given a good idea of when you’ll likely be discharged. Unless, of course, there are hospital-acquired complications.

Hospital-acquired complications are not as rare as we would like them to be. Their causes are many and varied. Can more be done to reduce their likelihood? This is the question asked in a newly published paper aimed at improving patient care.

The paper, published by the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, the research arm of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association (AHHA), used data-driven techniques to identify the causes of hospital complications. 

Co-author of the paper Adjunct Professor Rebecca Haddock said the timeliness and format of data regarding HACs was vital. “A key factor in improving our prevention strategies for HACs is timely and accurate data,” she said.

Prof. Haddock also emphasised a need to standardise how this data is collected and published.

Right now neither of those needs are being met, she said. “There are substantial delays in the publication of data for HACs. As of 2024, the national data is out of date and published across multiple websites.”

Having identified these key shortfalls, Prof. Haddock and co-author Dr Josephine Lovegrove looked at potential strategies to address them.

The four keys to reducing hospital-acquired complications

The research paper defines hospital-acquired complications as “adverse events occurring during patient admission, which may be prevented with appropriate clinical care using risk mitigation strategies”. 

One big problem in analysing and mitigating the risks is the haphazard way in which relevant data is published. According to the paper: “The publication of Australian HAC incidence data is delayed and incomplete. This creates barriers to clinicians, hospitals and their networks evaluating the incidence of HACs in local reporting and benchmarking it externally against broader service provision to improve patient care.”

Dr Lovegrove and Prof. Haddock have made four recommendations aimed at removing those barriers. In broad terms the recommendations are:

  1. Provide greater support to national agencies to allow the streamlining and more timely publication of hospital-acquired complications. Such publication should complement local reporting.
  2. Develop a nationally standardised process of care indicators for all HACs. This would basically ensure the various agencies are ‘speaking the same language’.
  3. Introduce legislation to make publication of HAC data mandatory.
  4. Publish data that is not only clear and transparent, but also available to patients.

Dr Lovegrove and Prof.Haddock recommend that patients be involved in the design of new processes. For 146,000 Australians, these recommendations have come too late. For future hospital patients, their implementation can’t come soon enough.

Do you know someone who has been the victim of hospital-acquired complications? How much of an impact did those complications have? Let us know via the comments section below. 

Also read: Alarming report reveals how older men end up in hospital

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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