Hospitals can reap big profits from central line infections

Hospital-acquired bloodstream infections--an avoidable medical condition--can rack up huge profits for hospitals, according to a new study.

Johns Hopkins University researchers examined a small cohort of patients who acquired central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) in the ICU and found that hospitals are paid nearly nine times what they would have received for providing care if the patient had not been infected. Private insurers pay hospitals about $400,000 per case of CLABSI, according to a research announcement.

"We have known that hospitals often profit from complications, even ones of their own making," Peter J. Pronovost, M.D., a senior vice president for patient safety for Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in the announcement. "What we did not know was by how much, and that private insurers are largely footing the bill."

Pronovost, one of the study's authors, invented a protocol for central line insertion that virtually eliminates the chance a patient will become infected. Some states, such as Wisconsin, have used such protocols to reduce their number of infections in recent years, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, although it remains unevenly applied nationally.

Most hospitals are required to report their central line infection rates to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and are being subject to lower payments from the Medicare program if they do not, according to the Journal-Sentinel. The CDC plans to publish infection rates starting in 2014.

Pronovost and other researchers associated with the study have suggested that private insurers apply similar pressure to hospitals in order to reduce the infection rate.

"If the money spent on treating just one infection was spent on effectively implementing measures to prevent CLABSIs, insurers could save millions of dollars, and, more importantly, the needless suffering of patients would be reduced," Johns Hopkins anesthesiology resident Eugene Hsu, M.D., and the study's lead author said in the announcement.

To learn more:
- read the research announcement
- see the Journal-Sentinel article
- check out the study abstract

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