Promoting Honest Counting of Hospital-Acquired Infections

Progress is being made in the national effort to let patients know which hospitals do the best job in preventing infections. But patient safety advocates are worried that some of the early reports of hospital-specific data may be overly rosy because of fudging in the way that infections are counted.

Last week we wrote about how infections acquired from intensive care units are more dangerous for children than adults. Most hospitals have made progress in addressing the issue of infection control, and a report issued recently by the Department of Health and Human Services promotes transparency in that effort.

HHS compared hospital ICUs across the country in terms of central line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), which research shows are highly deadly but highly preventable with good care. The information for each hospital is posted on the federal Hospital Compare website, updated quarterly. In the future, infections in addition to CLABSIs will be included.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 18,000 patients developed CLABSIs in the ICU in 2009. As many as 1 in 4 of these patients die. The CDC death toll for all hospital-acquired infections is estimated at 100,000 annually; such infections might cost as much as $45 billion.

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