Hospitals throughout the country have been largely unable to prevent the spread of potentially life-threatening hospital-acquired infections, according to a new government report on the nation’s health care system.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) released its 2009 national healthcare quality report this week, warning that postoperative sepsis, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and other preventable infections from hospitals are on the rise. The increases mean that more patients are at risk of prolonged hospital stays due to illness from infections, and more are likely to die from such infections.
According to federal reviewers, patient safety is one aspect of health care that is “performing particularly poorly.” Reviewers found that hospitals and the nation’s health care system overall are not devoting enough attention to patient safety, often because hospitals fail to share information due to fears that their professional reputations might be damaged or to avoid medical malpractice lawsuits.
The most alarming increase occurred in the rate of sepsis infections, which are a form of body-wide inflammation that results from the reaction to an infection. Symptoms can include high heart rate, a high respiratory rate, a high or low body temperature and elevated white blood cell count. Sepsis can cause organ damage and organ failure, and severe cases result in death about 20 to 35% of the time.
Specifically, government researchers determined that there was an 8% increase in the rate of sepsis infections acquired after surgery, a 3.6% increase in the rate of urinary tract infections from catheters and a 1.6% increase in overall hospital acquired infections over the last year. There was no change in the rate of infections acquired from central venous catheters. However, hospitals made huge inroads in the fight against postoperative pneumonia, with an 11.6% decrease in cases.
“It is evident that more attention devoted to patient safety is needed to ensure that health care does not result in avoidable patient harm,” researchers state in the report. “Systems for identifying and learning from patient safety events need to be improved.”
The report indicates that the sharing of information needs to be improved in order for hospitals to get control of the infection problem. Researchers also said that there also needs to be more work in understanding the processes and conditions that lead to the spread of hospital infections, and there needs to be more done to identify the practices that are the most effective in preventing the spread of those infections.
The CDC reports that there are more than 2 million hospital infections acquired each year, resulting in about 90,000 deaths annually. Another 1.5 million long term care and nursing home infections occur every year.
In recent years, there has been an increasing number of hospital infection lawsuits filed throughout the United States, as experts widely believe that most of these potentially life-threatening infections can be prevented if steps are taken by the hospital and staff. These steps could include improved methods of handling catheter during insertion, leaving them in for shorter periods and improved hygiene. Many hospitals have instituted new rules to ensure that hands are washed and increased efforts are being taken to keep areas lie the ICU more sterile and catheters clean.