For those of us with aging parents, visits to the hospital can become somewhat routine, unfortunately. An overnight stay for minor surgery, as my father recently had, isn't particularly worrisome--except for all I've been hearing about hospital infections.
The CDC estimates that about 100,000 people die from 1.7 million infections that they contract at hospitals each year (this is a 2002 estimate, but recent numbers from less authoritative sources are similar or higher). This is an enormous number, and with 35 million people hospitalized annually, this translates to a 5% chance of getting an infection, and about a 1 in 350 chance of both getting an infection and dying from it.
According to the non-profit organization RID, the 100,000 deaths are more than the deaths from breast cancer, AIDS, and car accidents combined. And how do we prevent these infections? Mostly simple cleanliness and sterilization procedures, such as washing hands and washing equipment properly. Procedures we assumed were practiced by hospital staff across the board.
So what's the good news? Several states now are considering or have passed laws that require disclosure of hospital infection rates for each hospital. Of course, some hospitals will have higher rates simply because they perform more acute care and their patients are sicker. However, these bills would finally put the responsibility back on the hospital, and would allow a more informed choices about where to schedule a procedure (when we have such a choice).