HHS' updated infection-fighting plan stresses health IT

In an updated draft of its national action plan for fighting healthcare-associated infections (HAI), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) highlights the role of health IT.

"Monitoring and measuring HAIs is a critical component of the overall strategy to prevent and reduce HAIs," the plan says." Advances in information technology (IT), harmonization of disparate data standards, incentive programs designed to promote the meaningful use of electronic health records (EHRs), and capabilities to connect with and integrate multiple data types and sources all provide opportunities to enhance national capacity to monitor, measure, and prevent the occurrence of HAIs."

Specifically, the plan cites the need for interoperability of information systems used for infection control, quality improvement, and safety; collaboration between federal agencies and other organizations at the national, state and local levels; the integration of data from multiple HHS databases; the use of IT to link healthcare records for HAI reporting; and the application of decision support tools imbedded in EHRs. Meaningful Use Stage 2 criteria address both interoperability and decision support tools.

The plan also recommends the alignment and identification of standardized data elements needed to measure HAIs across HHS agencies. It encourages federal participation in standards development organizations and the Health IT Standards Committee to fill gaps in existing standards.

HHS created its first HAI action plan in 2009. The department seeks public comment on the updated document, which is a roadmap to reduce specific kinds of infections and increase adherence to clinical guidelines.

HHS' announcement notes that while many kinds of HAIs have declined over the past decade, hospital stays associated with the C. difficile bacterium have tripled.

The initial focus of the plan will be on reducing hospital-acquired infections. Later, the campaign will expand to ambulatory surgery centers, end-stage renal disease facilities, and influenza vaccination of healthcare workers.

To learn more:
- read the updated national action plan
- see the HHS announcement

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