3 ways to fight hospital infections

This week we learned five major hospital-acquired infections (HAI) carry a hefty price tag--a total of $9.8 billion a year.

Breaking it down to a per patient basis, Monday's JAMA Internal Medicine study showed central line-associated bloodstream infections are costliest at an average of $45,814, followed by ventilator-associated pneumonia at $40,144, surgical site infections at $20,785, Clostridium difficile infections at $11,285 and catheter-associated urinary tract infections at $896.

With industry calls to contain healthcare costs, the study presents a way to save big bucks while increasing patient safety and quality care--focus on those common yet preventable sources of costly patient harm.

That's definitely easier said than done, but as FierceHealthcare coverage has shown, hospitals are finding innovative ways to combat hospital-acquired infections. Knowing the cost estimates of the five major infections, JAMA researchers hope hospitals can better justify investing in such prevention efforts.

So what are some infection-prevention strategies worth investing in?

1. Teamwork

As with many healthcare improvement efforts, teamwork can help hospitals drive down infection rates. For instance, disinfecting teams dedicated to attacking C. diff can help hospitals significantly reduce the presence of the notoriously resilient superbug in infected rooms. Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center has a team of three housekeepers who clean high-touch surfaces daily with germicidal wipes. If swab cultures can back positive, the entire room is recleaned and disinfected. As a result, C. diff room infection has dropped by 89 percent from the baseline.

And at Rhode Island Hospital, infection-prevention success hinged on multidisciplinary teamwork, with hospital administration, the epidemiology department, infection control, nursing, medicine, surgery, pathology, pharmacy, environmental services and the microbiology lab all working together. With the involvement of multiple disciplines, the hospital developed and implemented a C. diff infection control plan, monitored additional data sets, and improved environmental cleaning of patient rooms and equipment.

2. Technology

Robots continue to invade hospitals, enhancing telemedince efforts and enabling minimally invasive surgeries. Well, you can add infection-prevention to their list of duties as well, as FierceHealthIT reported. When it comes to preventing superbug infections, there's a robot that uses ultra-violet radiation to sterilize and kill germs. In fact, the robot helped one hospital in Massachusetts reduce C. diff by almost 70 percent, and four hospitals in North Carolina lower Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections by 35 percent.

Hospitals also want to consider investing in biosensors to win the fight against superbugs. FierceHealthIT reported that new biosensors, created by mixing bacteriophages and specific antibiodies, have the potential to detect antiobiotic resistance in bacteria. Researchers say the technology can be used by hospitals to disinfect facilities as well as clinicians treating patients.

3. Education

For healthcare workers to combat hospital-acquired infections, they need to understand the risk and their responses to various superbugs. This presents an opportunity for hospitals as workers have limited technical understanding of C. diff, including the microbiologic aspects of the bacterium, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment and prevention, according to a March American Journal of Infection Control study. To overcome the confusion, hospitals can invest in more detailed infection-prevention policies and education

Moreover, hospitals should extend education efforts beyond staff, and raise their awareness about hospital-acquired infections and prevention and precautions. To do so, hospitals can educate patients about the need to ensure hospital workers wash their hands. Investing in patient education can pay off as nurse-initiated conversations with patients about hand hygiene, along with handwritten notes on white boards, helped Sentara Healthcare, a nonprofit health system that includes 10 acute care hospitals in Virginia and North Carolina, increase compliance with hand-washing.

With hospital-acquired infections at great cost in health and dollars, where else should hospitals direct their infection-prevention investments? - Alicia (@FierceHealth)


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