Every year in the United States, approximately 5% of patients admitted to hospitals develop hospital acquired infections (Staph, MRSA, etc.). A hospital acquired infection is one that is caused by just being in the hospital. Such infections double the rate of mortality for admitted patients, and it a leading cause of death in this country.
There has been a lot of talk lately about efforts to reduce the number of hospital acquired infections, which generally start in the tubes and catheters inserted into the body. Today, there was a great article in the Washington Post about one doctor’s initial skepticism that these infections could be prevented, and his eventual realization that these infections can largely be prevented. This doctor was skeptical when his hospital joined the quality improvement initiative led by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, a nonprofit founded by Harvard pediatrician Donald Berwick. By looking at the process, measuring the results, providing feedback to key people and developing strategies to improve the care of their patients, they made checklists to ensure that certain procedures were followed to prevent hospital acquired infections. These were procedures similar to what intensive care units in Michigan did to reduce bloodstream infections to nearly zero.
For this particular doctor, after two years, there was a 50 percent decline in the intensive care unit infection rate, with a 21 percent (or $702) reduction in cost per ICU discharge. In fact, the results were so stunning, that the group published the results in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care. A copy of an article regarding the case can be found here.
As of today, there have been only a handful of major verdicts in cases alleging that medical malpractice for causing a hospital acquired infection. As these checklists become generally accepted, there certainly will be more cases.