HACs and How Orthopedic Surgical Devices Can Help Reduce Medical Error

By Maria Shepherd, President and Founder, Medi-Vantage | March 22, 2017

After a 30-year effort, data collected in 2014 and published in 20161 illustrated that there has been a 17 percent decline in hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) since 2010. This data is impressive, as it represents a 2.1 million case decline in preventable, hospital-caused conditions in U.S. patients. This trend of increased safety is a result of a focused attention by hospitals to reduce adverse events and has been driven by Medicare payment incentives as well as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Partnership for Patients program.

Why This Is Important
These are big numbers. The data reveals that between 2010 and 2014, 2.1 million fewer patients were injured in the hospital. The impact? Eighty-seven thousand lives were spared, while the savings in healthcare costs were estimated at $19.8 billion in 2014.

Further Opportunities Exist in the Orthopedic Sector
The trend toward reducing HACs is working, as illustrated by the data presented in Chart 1, and fewer U.S. hospital patients are being harmed by preventable medical errors. With that said, however, there is more work to be done. For example, the post-op infection rate for spine surgery (Chart 2) varies from 2.1 to 8.5 percent.2 Surgical site infections are among the most expensive to treat (Chart 3; on average, it costs $21,000 to treat an infection). A company called Xenco Medical is pursuing the opportunity3 due the company founders’ belief that wound infections are often associated with spine surgery instrumentation.

These HACs cost the hospital money because they are preventable and as such, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will no longer reimburse hospitals for their cost. The term “Never Event” was first used in 2001 in reference to alarming events, such as wrong-site surgery. Since then, the list4 of “Never Events” has increased to identify adverse events that fall into three categories:
  • Unambiguous events that can be detected and are quantifiable
  • Serious events that cause death or substantial disability
  • Preventable events
This list was updated in 2011, and now consists of 29 events bucketed into seven groups:
  • Surgical
  • Product or device
  • Patient protection
  • Care management
  • Environmental
  • Radiologic
  • Criminal
Conclusion and Recommendations
An orthopedic device designed and proven to reduce surgical site complications offers significant economic value that may warrant premium pricing. Hospitals continuously assess medical technology to improve clinical outcomes and sustain their own financial health. Explore product design changes to address these issues. A design innovation that addresses HACs will strengthen your medtech economic value proposition.

  1. AHRQ Partnership for Patients Web page for methods and data:
  2. International Orthopedics 2012 36: 457-464
  3. The Medtech Strategist, October 29, 2015, Volume 2, No. 19

Maria Shepherd has more than 20 years of leadership experience in medical device/life-science marketing in small startups and top-tier companies. After her industry career, including her role as vice president of marketing for Oridion Medical—where she boosted the company valuation prior to its acquisition by Covidien/Medtronic—director of marketing for Philips Medical, and senior management roles at Boston Scientific Inc., she founded Medi-Vantage. Medi-Vantage provides marketing and business strategy and innovation research for the medical device industry. The firm quantitatively and qualitatively sizes and segments opportunities, evaluates new technologies, provides marketing services, and assesses prospective acquisitions. Shepherd has taught marketing and product development courses and is a member of the Aligo Medtech Investment Committee ( She can be reached at 855-343-3100, ext. 102 or at Visit her website at
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