Hospital-acquired infections

Hospital-acquired infections are one of the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S. and significantly increase the cost of health care.

* The Association for Professionals in Infection Control & Epidemiology reports that 1.2 million hospital patients are infected with dangerous, drug-resistant staph infections each year.

* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 20 patients – about two million a year – contract an infection while in the hospital.

* Hospital-acquired infections kill over 90,000 people annually – more than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.

* Hospital-acquired infections increase the length of hospital stays up to 30 days.

* The cost to the U.S. health system of treating hospitalized patients with staph infections is astronomical – between $3.2 billion to $4.2 billion a year.

What can be done? The Institute for Health Care Improvement (IHCI) has proven that simple, practical steps coupled with new technology can drastically reduce infection rates in hospitals. The IHCI’s “100,000 Lives Campaign” outlines protocols, such as hand washing, to help reduce occurrences of infection-causing bacteria in health care facilities. Since 2004, the campaign has prevented some 123,000 unnecessary deaths.

More transparency in the health care market, including tracking and reporting of infection rates, is also necessary. In 2006, South Carolina passed S. 1318, which requires hospitals to publicly report their infection rates. Seventeen other states have passed or are considering similar measures.

Specifically, mandatory public reporting of common hospital-acquired infections will:

* Allow health care consumers to minimize their exposure to harmful bacteria. Access to quality of care information enables consumers to “comparison shop” for facilities that have the fewest number of reported infections.

* Create a new competitive element in the health care marketplace. Hospitals experiencing higher infection rates will have an incentive to closely examine current procedures and enact guidelines to minimize the risk of infections.

* Better define the problem here in Georgia, and will create a source of data that can be used in identifying and employing effective strategies.