Hospital-acquired infections are a serious problem in this country. Usually preventable, these infections routinely lead to unnecessary harm to patients, avoidable healthcare costs and needless medical malpractice lawsuits. Currently, 1 in 20 patients will develop a hospital-acquired infection while hospitalized in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention, hospital-acquired infections cause and/or contribute to 99,000 deaths a year. These infections cost the healthcare system billions of dollars a year. Medical experts have concluded that most hospital-acquired infections are preventable. Recently, the federal government, through the Department of Health And Human Services, has launched a bold initiative, seeking to reduce hospital-infections by 40% over the next two years.
A hospital-acquired infection is an infection that a patient develops in a hospital usually from poor hygiene or sanitization practices by hospital staff. These infections can come from a variety of sources. Central lines, urinary catheters, bedsores, blood stream, and surgical sites are just a few examples from which hospital-acquired infections can develop. These infections can lead to serious medical complications and, on occasion, wrongful death.
In addition to hand washing, medical equipment and supplies must also be thoroughly sanitized, as well as all other surfaces that staff, patients, and visitors will come in contact with. Simply using alcohol to clean surfaces is not enough. The use of hydrogen peroxide vapor has been clinically proven to substantially reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections. Hospital staff should also be diligent about their own attire. This includes not only obvious items like clothing but also less obvious items like ID badges which, historically, are seldom sanitized on a regular basis (if at all).
Fortunately, there are several simple measures that can be taken to reduce hospital-acquired infections. These measures include proper sanitation protocols concerning uniforms, equipment, and washing. In addition to regularly washing hands between each patient contact, hospital staff must be instructed on how to properly wash their hands. Although hand washing may sound like a simple process, experts have found many hospital staff members fail to perform this task correctly. As a result, many hospital-acquired infections occur because of poor hand washing methods. For this reason, proper hand washing is considered by many to be the single most important measure hospital staff can take to reduce hospital acquired-infections.
Many hospitals, with funding from the federal government, are now implementing new programs aimed at substantially reducing hospital-acquired infections. These new programs come on the heals of the government's new initiative launched last year by the Department of Health And Human Services. In addition to reducing hospital-acquired infections by 40% by the end of 2013, the government seeks to reduce costly hospital readmissions from these infections by 20%. The government estimates its initiative will result in 1.8 million fewer patient injuries and save over 60,000 lives in the process. If successful, the total healthcare costs savings could reach $35 billion. Likewise, hospitals will undoubtedly see fewer medical malpractice claims from serious or fatal hospital-acquired infections. For all these reasons, it is difficult to conceive why all hospitals would not take advantage of this new program. This is especially true given the new Medicare law that will begin penalizing hospitals with excessive numbers of hospital readmissions for hospital-acquired infections. This new law takes effect October 1, 2012.
Journal Sentinel Milwaukee, Hospital Aim To Do No Harm, January 28, 2012.
Wikipedia, Nosocomial Infection, February 5, 2012.