With money on the line, providers put their minds to infection control

With hospital-acquired infections killing 100,000 people a year and Medicare's refusal to pay for these and other 'never events', innovation in infection control is increasingly taking center stage.

For example, the Keystone Center for Patient Safety & Quality, a program of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association that reduced the state's central-line infections in 2008 to 1.2 cases for every 1,000 days of patient use compared with 2.4 cases nationwide, has been cited by three federal agencies aiming to significantly reduce central-line infections in 49 other states in the next three years. As a result, the Obama administration is disbursing $50 million to states to promote lessons learned there and will institute penalties by 2015 if hospitals have high infection rates, reports the Michigan Free Press.

New procedures for preventing infections being used by the program include an oral hygiene regimen to curb tube-to-mouth infections and checklists for employees to be sure they follow sterile procedures.

The Michigan program shows that "simple, logical steps done each and every time dramatically cut" hospital-acquired infections, and it is "cost effective and saves lives," said Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, after a presentation on Medicare fraud. The penalties and rewards "will realign Medicare payments to see who's doing a good job reducing infections," she said.

Despite the promise of this program and others like it, recent research has shown that even the most basic of infection control practices, including hand washing, don't occur as often as we'd like to think. Thus, the need to make infection control practices more convenient for busy healthcare providers has captured the entrepreneurial spirit of physicians, reports American Medical News, profiling two physicians who have created products designed to reduce the spread of microbes via everyday items that doctors rarely take the time to sanitize.

The inventions--sterile slip-on covers for stethoscopes developed by internist Richard Ma, MD, and Blaine Warkentine, MD's antimicrobial covers for smartphones--rely on antimicrobial technology, a field that Ma, a hospitalist at Saints Memorial Medical Center in Lowell, Mass., expects will only grow.

"A lot of changes in medicine, unfortunately, are money driven," Dr. Ma. said "Hospitals are much more forcing nurses and physicians to adhere to cleaning the stethoscope in between patients, washing hands and things like that because of the problems with nosocomial infections. But more because they are going to get penalized because of Medicare rules."

To learn more:
- read this article in American Medical News
- see this piece in the Michigan Free Press