The goal could be achieved by enhancing patients' access to effective treatments and getting more Americans to adopt healthy behaviours, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The data are drawn from hospitals that comprise 90 percent of all discharges in the United States and include all patients, regardless of insurance type, as well as the uninsured.

Billions of dollars could be saved by avoiding the need to hospitalise patients for health problems that, in most cases, can be prevented or if already present, kept stable by high-quality care in physicians’ offices. The potential savings are based on AHRQ’s estimate that hospitals spent about $29 billion in 2004 on care for twelve potentially preventable conditions in adults.

These are uncontrolled diabetes without complications ($201 million); short-term diabetes complications such as hypoglycemia ($764 million); long-term diabetes complications such as kidney damage ($2.6 billion) or diabetes related foot or leg amputations; angina not involving a procedure ($435 million); congestive heart failure ($8.3 billion); high blood pressure ($509 million); asthma ($1.4 billion); chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ($3.4 billion); bacterial pneumonia ($7 billion); dehydration ($1.4 billion); and urinary tract infection ($2 billion).

The estimates are also based on spending for four paediatric conditions: short-term diabetes complications ($61 million); asthma ($326 million); gastroenteritis ($241 million); and urinary tract infection ($109 million). Over the 7-year period from 1997 to 2004, hospital costs for these potentially preventable conditions increased by nearly one-third (31 percent), adjusted for inflation, while hospital admissions for these conditions increased by only three percent.; Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)