Rampant healthcare-acquired infections call for transparency, health information technology

Staggering rates of healthcare-acquired infections (HAI) require hospitals and health systems to implement health IT, as well as transparency, according to a GE white paper released today.

As the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S., HAIs affect one in 20 patients, that is, 1.7 million inpatients each year, according to the report.

"The total cost added to the system can't be ignored," added Mark Segal, co-author and vice president of government and industry affairs at GE Healthcare IT, in a press release. "As the government grapples with controlling healthcare costs, reducing HAIs offers a very real opportunity to reduce operating costs while maximizing reimbursements and avoiding future penalties."

HAIs cost the healthcare system $35 to $88 billion each year, averaging about $1,100 per admitted patient, according to the report.

Since the landmark report in 2000 by the Institute of Medicine and at the urging of national initiatives, Medicare will not reimburse for falls, retained foreign objects, air embolism, among other healthcare-acquired conditions. The shift in reimbursements is one that many institutions are taking to heart, acknowledging HAIs are unacceptable, as CMS Administrator Don Berwick once called it.

"[T]here is good news: there's no need to 'search for a cure.' Instead, hospitals now can implement proven interventions to reduce the number of HAIs," states the white paper.

Hospital leaders are likely to pay even more attention to HAIs, knowing that the institution's reputation is on the line. More consumers today are looking at publicly available data to base their patient care choices, according to the report.

To combat HAIs, the report calls on institutions to make HAIs a top priority to drive change, using guidelines and technology. Hospitals are currently experimenting with innovative ways to reduce HAIs, such as using copper surfaces to cut bacteria, buying ultra-hand sanitizer, or duct taping safe zones for isolating patients.

"It is hospitals and healthcare professionals who must act to create the needed changes. They must apply the leadership, technology and safe practices necessary to the HAI challenge, focusing on changes to the systemic and cultural factors that have allowed HAIs to remain a very serious and expensive healthcare problem," states the report.

For more:
- read the GE press release
- see the full report
- check out the infographic of the statistics