Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hospital infections-what are the chances?

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).


Steven Salzberg said...

Well, the "good news" is pretty pathetic - most states aren't doing anything, and the federal government is where we need the action, so that all hospitals will comply with similar standards.
Recent studies - see the excellent book "Better" by Atul Gawanda - show that assiduous attention to hand-washing brings dramatic reductions in infection rates. But (unfortunately) doctors and hospital staff just can't seem to maintain good practices, even when they know it helps. They're too pressed for time (they think) to wash before every patient visit. We need to change the medical culture, so that all patient visits are treated just like the operating room, where sterile hands and equipment are considered essential.

Anonymous said...

I think that Medicare is moving toward a policy of only paying for reasonable & expected expenses. Hence, they would not necessarily pay the costs for hospital acquired infections. This would change policy. Please, check my facts.

Hey, what do you think of
Business Week, Jan 14, 2008.
"How CEOs LEad with their Chins"
90% of top execs have strong chins; only 40% of the general population has strong chins.

Sarah Hayden

Alan Salzberg said...

I think the problem is so systemic that a policy change regarding who pays the infections may not make much difference. I feel general awareness (and outrage) among the public is more likely to change policies.

As for the CEO chins, sounds like a bunch of baloney to me, as the evidence was presented by none other than a plastic surgeon who does surgery for that purpose. He chose a non-random sample of 40 CEOs and he decided whether they had strong chins or not. See BW blurb at:
A good example of probable selection bias (see my Election Math post above- )
Anyway, your chin is just fine the way it is, Sarah!