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Hospital Infections Kill 48,000 Each Year

Study Shows Hospital-Acquired Infections Kill 3 Times as Many Americans as HIV

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In a study reported earlier this month, Pronovost and colleagues showed that by instituting simple safety checklists for hospital procedures -- and by insisting on a team approach that includes the lowliest nurse assistants and the loftiest senior surgeons -- hospital infection rates can be dropped nearly to zero.

But it's not all up to hospital staff. You and your family can do a lot to prevent deadly hospital infections. Pronovost offers the following list. Note that some of these items may help you decide which hospital you should go to in the first place:

  • Ask your doctor the hospital’s rate of bloodstream infections; it should be at or below one infection per 1,000 catheter days.
  • Ask if the hospital is participating in the national effort to prevent these infections - it should be.
  • Ask if they use the Pronovost checklist when inserting central line catheters.
  • Ask if the clinicians wash their hands each time they enter your room.
  • If you have a catheter, ask daily if you still need it. The catheter is a risk for infections

Pronovost says that while hospitals may have good intentions, it's essential they keep track of their hospital infection rate. If a hospital can't tell you its infection rate, it's not doing enough.

"It's like making a New Year's resolution to diet -- it doesn't work unless you step on the scales throughout the year," he says.

Now that the scale of the problem is known, Laxminarayan says that the U.S. should mount a prevention effort on the same scale as its anti-AIDS effort.

"People need to speak out," he says. "Nobody can argue that patients going to the hospital should be at minimal risk. Many of these infections can be prevented, and there is no good reason not to do that."

The Laxminarayan study appears in the Feb. 22 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, as does an editorial by Pronovost. Pronovost's study appears in the Feb. 4 online edition of BMJ.

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