NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 12, 2005

We have the knowledge to prevent hospital infection deaths. We don't have to wait for a scientific breakthrough. Yet most hospitals have failed to act. The situation is growing more dangerous because, increasingly, hospital infections cannot be cured with commonly used antibiotics, says health policy expert Betsy McCaughey.

  • Infections contracted in hospitals are the fourth largest killer in America.
  • Every year in this country, two million patients contract infections in hospitals.
  • An estimated 103,000 die as a result, as many deaths as from AIDS, breast cancer and auto accidents combined.

A few U.S. hospitals are proving that infections are almost entirely preventable. How are they doing it? Through rigorous hand hygiene, meticulous cleaning of equipment and rooms in between patient use, testing incoming patients to identify those carrying dangerous bacteria and strictly isolating those who test positive, and requiring caregivers to use gowns or disposable aprons when treating positive patients.

According to McCaughey:

  • Hospital infections add an estimated $30 billion to the nation's hospital costs each year.
  • Patients, insurers and taxpayers pay part of that cost, but hospitals have to absorb much of it; as a result, infections erode hospital profits.
  • Preventing infections can turn a financially failing hospital profitable.

Better infection control in hospitals is essential to prepare the nation for avian flu or bioterrorism. Right now, most hospitals are woefully underprepared. Hospitals have failed to stop the spread of ordinary infections spread by touch and would not be able to contain flu viruses, which are communicated by droplets from coughing and sneezing as well as touch, says McCaughey.

Source: Betsy McCaughey, "Unnecessary Deaths: The Human and Financial Costs of Hospital Infections," Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and the National Center for Policy Analysis, December 9, 2005.


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