Hospital infections & how you can reduce your risks

Betsy McCaughey is chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, a non-profit working on the critical problem of eliminating hospital infections.

…That is why RID was founded: to motivate hospitals to make infection prevention a top priority and to show them the financial benefits of doing so; to provide patients with information on how to protect themselves; and to educate future doctors and nurses on the precautions needed to stop bacteria from spreading patient to patient.

Many hospital administrators believe they can’t afford to take these precautions. They can’t afford not to! Infections erode hospital profits. When a patient contracts an infection and stays in the hospital weeks or even months longer, the hospital is seldom paid for the added stay and care. RID’s research provides compelling economic evidence that preventing infections can cost far less than treating them.

RID is also creating educational tools for medical and nursing schools. It’s hard to believe, but young doctors and nurses in training seldom have even one class session devoted to hygiene. Educating the future generation of caregivers about hygiene and making it a central part of medicine again may be RID’s most lasting legacy.

Finally, better infection control in hospitals is essential to prepare the nation for avian flu or bioterrorism. If hospitals have effective infection controls in place, they can prevent bird flu victims from infecting other patients who did not come in with it. If not, bird flu could sweep through hospitals. Right now, most hospitals are woefully under prepared.

How can hospitals that have failed to contain ordinary infections spread by touch control a flu virus that is communicated by droplets from coughing and sneezing as well as touch? Even more challenging would be small pox, plague, and other bioterrorism weapons that can travel through the air. Shoddy infection control is poor preparation for a flu epidemic and poor homeland security as well.

I recommend downloading and filing for reference the brochure “15 Steps you can take to protect yourself“. Why can’t you Google the score cards for hospitals’ infection rates?

Ideally, you would choose a hospital with a low infection rate. Good luck getting that information. It’s impossible. Many states collect data on infections that lead to serious injury or death, but nearly every state-with the exception of 6-has given into the hospital industry’s demands to keep the information secret. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also collect infection data from hospitals across the nation, but refuse to make it public. Government is too often on our backs, instead of on our side.

What’s the answer? Hospital infections report cards. Hospitals object that comparisons would be unfair because hospitals that treat sicker patients, such as AIDS, cancer, and transplant patients who have weakened immune systems, will have a higher infection rate. True, but the data can be risk adjusted to make comparisons fair. What is unfair is preventing the public from knowing which hospitals have infection epidemics. Keeping infection rates secret may help hospitals save face, but it won’t save lives.

Australia is taking some steps towards coherent surveillance, but AFAIK there is no state- or nation-wide database of hospital scores. Victoria’s VICNISS site has useful resources, and is expected to offer more, such as Aggregate Infection Rates for Victorian Hospitals.

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