How safe are our hospitals? Recent studies show 1 in 20 patients admitted to U.S. hospital develop a hospital-related infection. These infections contribute to 99,000 deaths a year. In terms of cost, hospital related infections add $33 billion annually to healthcare spending. However, one state, California, has initiated a program that has managed to both save lives and cuts costs. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I was very encouraged to read about this new California initiative which has the potential to save thousands of lives every year from unnecessary hospital infections.
Hospital acquire infections do not discriminate. New York's Time's columnist Maureen Dowd recently lost her brother after he developed a hospital infection. She described how her brother went into a hospital with pneumonia. While there, he contracted four different infections. According Dr. Peter Provonost, director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at John Hopkins University, "[t]he math...is pretty gruesome." About 100,000 people die each year "from infections we give them in the hospital."
Until the new California initiated, an estimated 12,000 patients died every in California hospitals from hospital-related in infections. Under a three-year campaign designed to reduce costs and save lives, the Golden State has seen a substantial drop in hospital-acquired infections. The program is credited with reducing urinary traction by 24% and ventilator infections by 41%. Indeed, 800 lives have been saved since the initiative. Lower hospital infections have also saved the state an estimated $11 million dollars in healthcare costs.
In addition to public safety advocates (like myself), the federal government and private insurers are also applying pressure on hospitals to decrease their infection rates. The federal government now refuses to pay extra costs to hospitals when Medicare patients get infections from catheters and IV lines. The new federal law will also, soon, withhold money from hospitals that fail to reduce their rates of infection. Many private insurance companies are also refusing to pay hospitals for extra costs associated with hospital-related infections.
As has been documented many times before, the solutions to substantially reduce hospital infections are not difficult. They include washing hands regularly, brushing patients' teeth more frequently, and sterilizing equipment properly. Big improvements have also been seen through the use of safety checklists. The solutions, then, are rather simple. Understanding why all hospitals won't implement these solutions--which save lives and money--is not.
Los Angeles Times, Hospital-related infections drop under California initiative, August 23, 2011.
CNN, Gruesome math of hospital infections, April 14, 2011.
New York Times, Giving Doctors Orders, Mareen Dowd, April 12, 2011.