NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 28, 2009

Too many Americans go into hospitals for treatment and end up getting sicker.  The cause: hospital infections, says USA Today. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control:

  • A 2002 study estimated that 1.7 million patients annually suffer from care-related infections, most of them preventable, resulting in nearly 100,000 deaths.
  • That's more lives than are claimed by AIDS, breast cancer and motor vehicle accidents combined.
  • The cost of these infections is conservatively estimated at $8,000 to $15,000 per patient, or more than $20 billion annually.

Why are infections so widespread?  Medical professionals, hospital administrators and government regulators are failing to demand adherence to actions they already know will protect patients, says USA Today.

A new study, to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that performing a simple pre-surgical checklist can reduce complications, including infections, by one-third.  Other policies can help, says USA Today.

Require reporting:

  • Secrecy allows the problem to fester; although 23 states require hospitals to report infections to one of four unlinked federal databases, the resulting reporting is so scattershot that there's no way to determine whether the problem has been getting better or worse.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) can demand greater transparency from hospitals and publicize infection rates.

Improve inspections:

  • Groups that accredit hospitals visit them only once every three years on average.
  • More frequent, unannounced inspections for cleanliness would improve compliance.
  • HHS can demand that violators be publicly identified and sanctioned.

Withhold payment:

  • Since October, the federal Medicare program has stopped paying for the extra cost of treating three types of preventable hospital infections.
  • Medicare is considering whether to expand the policy to other infections.

Use antibiotics wisely:

  • Overuse of antibiotics can spawn germ-resistant bugs.
  • Hospital stays for a drug-resistant staph infection called MRSA have tripled since 2000.
  • At the same time, there's strong evidence that administering antibiotics before surgery reduces wound infections.

Source: Editorial, "Lax attitudes help spread deadly hospital infections; Institutions, government slow to adopt measures that can save lives," USA Today, January 27, 2009.


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