According to some of the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on hospital acquired-infections, approximately 650,000 people picked up a bacteria or virus after being admitted to U.S. hospitals in 2011—of those, 75,000 died. That’s substantial enough of a number to make hospital acquired-infections (HAIs) a leading cause of death in the United States, just after Diabetes. But, similar to the topic of a recent blog on medical errors, The CDC does not include HAI data in their compilation of cause-of-death statistics.
A Minor Risk that Poses a Major Hazard
While the average occurrence of an HAI is only about one in 25 patients, many feel that such a ratio is not acceptable. While the CDC does not acknowledge HAIs as a leading cause of death, they do recognize the threat they pose to our nation’s healthcare facilities. In fact, the CDC even established the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN)—the largest and most widely used system of its kind—designed to help track identify, track and prevent healthcare-associated infections across the U.S. Offering hospitals the ability to report infectious incidents of any kind, the NHSN has focused on a category of infection that accounts for nearly a quarter of all HAIs; those that are associated with devices such as central lines, urinary catheters and ventilators.
Central Line Infection Often the Most Deadly
Any time a patient needs plasma, nutrients or medicine to be introduced directly into the body, it requires the insertion of a central line—essentially a long tube that terminates with a large needle which is injected directly into a vein. Intended to rapidly deliver substantial quantities of a beneficial agent, it can also effectively convey bacteria and other pathogens into one’s system. While central line infections represent a small number of total HAIs in today’s hospitals —affecting about 27,000 people in 2015—they are the most deadly, with as much as a quarter of all cases ending in fatality. Reasons being that the pathogens are immediately on a direct path to major organs and muscles in conjunction with the delay of obvious signs of infection, as compared to, say, a skin-borne infection. This fact can also complicate the cure, making central line infections one of the more costly to treat—setting hospitals back $46,000 on average, according to a 2013 Journal of the American Medical Association study.
The Best Way to Avoid an HAI
So hospital-acquired infections happen more often than you probably thought; they can be more expensive to treat in general; and they have life-threatening results more frequently than you might ever imagine. The worst part? Many HAIs can be prevented more easily than thwarting the common cold—simply by following certain common-sense procedures, such as washing hands and using sterile equipment.
Of course, you often don’t have control over such procedural aspects during your hospital stay, so how do you ensure that your chosen caregiver is following proper protocol? Your best bet is to investigate hospitals in your area BEFORE being admitted for treatment. A good resource for unbiased opinions would be to review the type of information I recently covered on the subject of hospital rating systems. Don’t forget that such data is as only good as its source, so seek multiple opinions.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.