A hospital patient care and safety initiative aimed at preventing medical errors and hospital-acquired infections could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars, U.S. government and industry officials said on Tuesday.

The goal is to cut preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent over the next three years, said Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who announced the initiative with consumer and industry groups. She said it could result in 1.8 million fewer injuries and saving more than 60,000 lives over the period.

They also want to reduce hospital readmissions by 20 percent.

Medicare, which provides medical coverage for about 45 million elderly Americans, could save as much as $50 billion over the next decade, HHS said.

Sebelius said up to $1 billion in federal funding is being made available through last year's healthcare overhaul law to help improve patient safety at hospitals.

The Obama administration and Congress are trying to curb runaway healthcare costs as they grapple with the U.S. budget deficit and debt burden.

Sebelius said 500 hospitals had already joined the initiative.

"This is not just about improving health. By reducing medical errors. We are also going to bring down rising health insurance costs which have put a growing burden on families, businesses and government," Sebelius said.