Patient advocates were generally pleased with the report, while noting there remains much to be done to lower the number of cases of patient harm further.
"A reduction of 40 percent was ambitious, but 17 percent is still a significant improvement, and we need to continue to work to get to zero harm," said Dr. Tejal Gandhi, president and CEO of the National Patient Safety Foundation.
"For some of the safety issues addressed in this report, such as central-line associated bloodstream infections, there are known best practices, and the reduction is likely a reflection that more hospitals are learning about and adopting these practices," Gandhi said.
She added that "it's also important to note that in addition to making care safe for patients, any improvement in this magnitude is also going to reduce costs of care. Hospital leaders as well as our elected officials should take note of that, and renew their commitment to funding quality and safety programs."
Nancy Berlinger, a research scholar at the Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, said, "This report offers encouraging news to health-care organizations and to current and future patients."
"Focused efforts to identify the causes of preventable harms to patients, to translate this knowledge into safer ways to deliver health care, and to use policy to support safety and prevent harm, are paying off," Berlinger said. "We now know that the duty to 'do no harm' includes protecting patients from harms created by health care systems."
But, Berlinger added, "we can never rest on our laurels." She said that further steep reductions in patient harm rates is "going to take a very big effort, and a concerted effort."
Berlinger, who is the author of the book "After Harm: Medical Error and Ethics of Forgiveness," said that while hospitals are necessary places for people to get health treatment, "they are risky places," because of the opportunities for infections and other harm.
A patient and their family, she said, "cannot protect the patient against the harms that are being generated by the system. Only the system can do that," she said.
Berlinger also said that the efforts to further reduce the rates of harm may be stymied, in some cases, by the complexity of the health-care system, and by the frequency in which patients are transferred from one institution to another.
"The challenge now will be sustaining this in a time of immense health-care system change," she said. "Hospitals are merging, and there is constant change in our systems."