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Infection Control Lacking at Surgical Centers

Study Reveals Procedural Problems in Infection-Control Methods
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 8, 2010 -- Lapses in procedures aimed at fighting infections are common in ambulatory surgical centers, a study shows. The lapses include safe hygiene methods and improper handling of medications and equipment.

The study by the CDC is published in the June 9 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers say they found at least one lapse in infection control practices in 46 of 68 ambulatory surgical centers studied, endangering patients. 

The surgical centers examined were located in three states: Maryland, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. The types of procedures performed at these centers included dental, endoscopy, gynecology, ophthalmology, orthopaedics, otolaryngology, pain, plastic surgery, and podiatry.

Practices in which lapses in infection control were detected included hand hygiene, injection safety, medication handling safety, equipment reprocessing, environmental cleaning, and handling of blood sugar monitoring equipment.

Among other problems found in the study:

  • 6% of facilities inappropriately reprocessed and used items that were packaged and labeled as single-use devices.
  • 21% of facilities used a single lancing penlet device for multiple patients in blood glucose testing.
  • 28% of facilities used medications in single-dose vials for multiple patients.
  • 32% of facilities performing blood glucose testing failed to clean and disinfect the blood glucose meter after each use.

In an accompanying editorial, Philip S. Barie, MD, MBA, of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weil Cornell Medical Center, writes that such lapses cannot be tolerated and that problems must be corrected to avoid putting millions of patients at risk for health care-associated infections.

Medicare Facilities

According to background information in the CDC study, ambulatory surgical centers are facilities that operate exclusively to provide surgical services to patients who do not require hospitalization or admission to such facilities lasting longer than 24 hours.

Between 2001 and 2008, researchers say there was a 50% increase in the number of Medicare-certified ambulatory surgical centers, called ASCs, in the U.S., along with a significant rise in problems related to hygiene and safety health procedures.

More than 5,000 ASCs participate in the Medicare program; CDC researchers say that in 2007 more than 6 million procedures were performed in these centers, with services extending beyond what is traditionally considered surgery.

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