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Sebelius discusses patient safety with ECU physicians
By Doug Boyd
ECU News Services
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius talks with Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr. and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield during a tour of the East Carolina Heart Institute at Pitt County Memorial Hospital Monday, May 23. Photos by Cliff Hollis
GREENVILLE, N.C. (May 23, 2011) — U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius agreed on the importance of not only improving patient safety but also measuring the effectiveness of safety projects during talks today with physicians from East Carolina University and administrators from Pitt County Memorial Hospital.
"If you can't measure it, you don't have any idea," Sebelius said.
Sebelius is visiting medical centers around the country to learn about their work to reduce patient complications and readmissions. The goal is to save lives and money. Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly, will begin linking hospital reimbursements to patient outcomes in 2014.
During a tour of the East Carolina Heart Institute at PCMH, Dr. W. Randolph Chitwood Jr., director of the institute, told her of steps he has taken to quantify physician performance and patient outcomes.
"We have data on everything," said Chitwood, professor of cardiovascular sciences and senior associate vice chancellor for health sciences at ECU. "We have every single outcome, every cardiologist's outcome, complication rates," said Chitwood, who began a cardiac care database when he arrived at ECU in 1984.
While in the heart institute, Sebelius listened and watched as Dr. Christopher Porterfield, a cardiology fellow at ECU, demonstrated how he uses an iPad to access patient information, communicate with other physicians and educate patients on their care. She also spoke with a patient.
Sebelius then listened to a panel discussion of quality improvement work at PCMH. Dr. Walter Pofahl, an ECU surgeon, chairs the University Health Systems Quality Improvement Committee. UHS is the parent company of PCMH.
Sebelius is leading the federal Partnership for Patients, a program that aims to reduce preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent by 2013. Achieving this goal would mean approximately 1.8 million fewer injuries to patients, with more than 60,000 lives saved over the next three years, she said.
She also wants to reduce hospital readmissions by 20 percent. That would mean more than 1.6 million patients will recover from illness without suffering a preventable complication requiring re-hospitalization within 30 days of discharge.
Meeting these goals would help save $35 billion, according to government estimates.
She praised PCMH's goal of not only reducing but also eliminating complications.
Dr. Phyllis Horns, ECU vice chancellor for health sciences, said having a cabinet member visit the medical center and meet with faculty members is important.
"It just reinforces that the things we are doing here are significant, they are noteworthy," Horns said. "She seemed to be anxious to learn the lessons we have accomplished and share them with the rest of the country."
More details on the Partnership for Patients are online at
Dr. Christopher Porterfield, an ECU cardiology fellow, explains how he uses an iPad in his practice to Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services, during a Monday, May 23, tour of the East Carolina Heart Institute at Pitt County Memorial Hospital.
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