Hospital-Acquired Infections Cost U.S. $10B Annually: Study

A new study has found that the five major types of hospital-acquired infections, usually considered preventable events with the exercise of the proper standards of medical care, cost the U.S. health care system nearly $10 billion every year.  

The findings, published by Harvard researchers in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine on September 2, highlight how expensive such infections are to treat as well as the massive cost-saving effects of prevention.

The researchers looked at data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and conducted a systematic review or medical literature from 1986 to April 2013. They looked at five major types of infections associated with hospital visits, including central line-associated bloodstream infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, surgical site infections, Clostridium difficile infections, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

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The most expensive hospital acquired infections to treat were central line infections at $45,814 per case. The least expensive was catheter-associated urinary tract infections, which came in at about $896. Overall, researchers determined that the annual cost for the five major infections was $9.8 billion.

Even though they were not the most expensive to treat, surgical site infections, costing about $20,785 each, had the greatest financial impact on health care. Due to their frequency, surgical site infections accounted for more than 33% of the total cost of hospital-acquired infections studied by the researchers.

Prevention Key to Bringing Down Costs, Rates

The researchers said they hope that highlighting the costs associated with hospital infections will make the health care industry more willing to invest heavily in preventative measures.

The study comes about a year after researchers determined that Medicare penalties aimed at preventing infections were ineffective. In 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began reducing payments for catheter associated bloodstream and urinary tract infections, hoping to push hospitals to be better at preventing them and not wanting hospitals to profit from illnesses they themselves caused.

A central line bloodstream catheter is a tube that is inserted into large veins in the neck, chest or groin to administer medication or to collect blood from patients. These catheters are different from standard intravenous catheters (IVs), because they access a major vein close to the heart and stay in place for weeks, sometimes months, at a time. Because of this, central line catheters more commonly cause infection.

Catheter urinary tract infections occur after a catheter has been inserted into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine. This typically happens after prolonged use of a urinary catheter. Approximately 75% of urinary tract infections (UTIs) are associated with a urinary catheter, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More than 2 million hospital infections and 1.5 million nursing home and long term care infections occur each year, according to the CDC.

In recent years, an increasing number of medical malpractice lawsuits over hospital infections are being filed, as many experts believe that these infections can be prevented with the exercise of reasonable care.

According to prior research, preventable hospital infections cost the U.S. Economy nearly $19.5 billion in 2008 and claimed more than 2,500 lives that year.

Implementation of simple procedures, such as more frequent hand washing for healthcare professionals, timely removal of catheters deterring prolonged use and thorough instrument and patient room cleaning are widely recognized steps that can prevent many of these hospital infection problems.

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