NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 10, 2006

Every year about two million patients -- or one in 20 -- contract an infection after they are admitted to a hospital, says the Wall Street Journal. This accounts for half of all major complications and 90,000 deaths annually.

Hospital administrators are recognizing that infections are eating into their profits. MedMined Inc., a Birmingham, Ala., company that mines hospital data to spot nascent problems with bacteria before they spread, estimates that private and public insurers paid $11.5 billion in reimbursement to hospitals because of complications from infections last year. But hospitals still lost nearly $9 billion from the costs of longer hospital stays and extra treatment.

With growing pressure to fix the problem, hospitals are beefing up infection-control departments and investing in high-tech surveillance systems:

  • Medical-supply companies are offering new products and services to fight bacteria, such as surgical catheters coated with antibiotics, "killer gloves" that release powerful disinfectants, new diagnostic tests to more quickly identify bacteria and microbe-resistant bed sheets and lab coats.
  • In Pennsylvania, a group of hospitals reduced bloodstream-infection rates for central-line catheters by 67 percent by 2001 and 2005 by adhering to guidelines, including using chlorhexidine for skin disinfections before inserting catheters, and prompt removal of catheters when they were no longer necessary.
  • Some 14 hospitals working with the nonprofit Institute for Healthcare Improvement eliminated cases of a type of pneumonia for one year, following six relatively simple steps such as raising the head of patients on mechanical ventilators so bacteria don't get into the lungs.

Mark Vaaler, vice president of medical affairs at the nine-hospital Baycare Health System in Tampa, warned that no matter how clean hospitals are, "there are still going to be bacteria." But by investing in new surveillance tools and adhering to guidelines for prevention, Vaaler says, "we can reach the goal of minimizing infections."

Source: Laura Landro, "Hospitals Take Stronger Steps Against Bacteria," Wall Street Journal, March 8, 2006.

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