Hospital-acquired infections continue to plague patients

Ten years after the problem first gained attention, hospital-acquired infections continue to plague patients. For three out of five conditions being measured, the statistics have gotten worse, according to reports released April 13 by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Specifically, rates have risen for post-operative sepsis (up 8 percent), postoperative catheter-associated urinary tract infections (up 3.6 percent) and selected infections due to medical care (up 1.6 percent). There was no change in the number of bloodstream infections associated with central venous catheter placements. The one improvement was in the rate of postoperative pneumonia, which decreased by 12 percent.

"We know that focused attention to eliminating health care acquired infections can reduce them dramatically," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "Despite promising improvements in a few areas of health care, we are not achieving the more substantial strides that are needed to address persistent gaps in quality and access."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the report "a pretty clear diagnosis of some of the gaps and shortcomings in our nation's health care system," reports the Associated Press. Sebelius also noted that health reform--which penalizes hospitals with high infection rates beginning in 2015--should "help turn these numbers around."

Meanwhile, results from a Leapfrog Group survey echoed that hospital quality needs significant improvement. The news wasn't all bad, as hospitals are at least performing better than before.

Of the 1,244 hospitals that completed the 2009 Leapfrog Hospital Survey, 53.5 percent met Leapfrog's quality standard for heart bypass surgery, compared to only 43 percent in 2008. Similarly, this year 44 percent of hospitals met Leapfrog's quality standard for heart angioplasty, compared to 35 percent last year.

"There is significant improvement in performance, for which we commend hospitals as well as the hundreds of purchasers using Leapfrog data to improve quality of care for employees," said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder, "Still, at most half of hospitals ever achieve acceptable standards for mortality, and that's very concerning."

To learn more:
- read this AHRQ press release
- read this HealthDay News piece
- read this article in The Medical News
- check out this New York Times article
- read this Associated Press article
- here's the Leapfrog Group's survey

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