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Infection Prevention: In just a few years, hospitals have made major progress against healthcare-associated infections.

Screenshot 2015-08-26 00.33.04The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, on any given day, about 1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI), and about 75,000 hospital patients with HAIs died during their hospitalizations in 2011. HAIs are infections that patients get while receiving treatment for another condition while in the hospital.

Infections are serious and can cause longer hospital stays, readmissions and even death. Because of the complications infections cause, they also make treatment more serious and more expensive. Low infection rates make for a better patient experience and faster recoveries.
The good news, according to the CDC’s “HAI Progress Report,” is that the incidence of almost all commonly reported infections is down. This report found substantial decreases in the percentage of:

  • Central line bloodstream infections (46 percent from 2008 to 2013)
  • Surgical site infections (19 percent from 2008 to 2013)
  • Hospital-onset C. difficile infections (10 percent from 2011 to 2013)

That’s because hospitals locally and across the country are taking steps to ensure the safety of patients, including better safety measures, greater disclosure and better visitor practices.

Better hospital safety measures
Central line-associated bloodstream infections were common among the types of infections patients could acquire during a hospital stay. According to the CDC, a “central line” is a tube that is placed into a patient’s large vein, usually in the neck, chest, arm or groin. It is often used to draw blood or give fluids or medications. It may be left in place for several weeks. A bloodstream infection can occur when bacteria or other germs travel down a “central line” and enter the blood.
By following evidence-based national guidelines to maintain a low number of central line-associated bloodstream and catheter-associated urinary tract infections in hospitals, hospitals are significantly lowering the expected number of these two types of infections.

Greater disclosure
All hospitals in Pennsylvania are required to report any HAI that occurs in an inpatient location to the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network. This information is provided to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health in order to be compiled, analyzed and published.

Not only is more information available publicly, insurers and government-funded programs are increasingly holding hospitals accountable for infection rates. Under a CMS program (part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005), hospitals with higher infection rates are penalized 1 percent of their Medicare payments, and the federal government is expanding the program. These programs make it easier for patients to identify hospitals with the best performance. In addition, many local hospitals are sharing their quality information on their websites.

Better patient/visitor practices
Hospital visitors and patients also have a role to play in fighting infection by always following safety rules. They should practice proper hand washing, adhere to all posted infection-control signs and refrain from hospital visits if sick. Small measures go a long way toward protecting yourself and others.

In addition, you can educate yourself about a hospital’s safety record before being admitted. While you are in the hospital, ask about infection control practices and never be afraid to ask a caregiver to wash his or her hands. By working together, patients, families, visitors and hospital staff are the best defense against infections and create the best circumstances for faster recovery.

You can access a wide range of information about the infection rates of hospitals in your area. For more information, visit http://patientsafetyauthority.org and www.medicare.gov/hospitalcompare.

Nirmal Joshi, MD, FACP, is senior vice president of Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer at PinnacleHealth. You can learn more about PinnacleHealth by visiting www.pinnaclehealth.org.

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