This article is more than 13 years old.

...than I can on choosing a hospital to go to. While I can turn to consumer guides for purchases of anything but healthcare, patients and purchasers are left in the dark when it comes to important details about the quality of care in hospitals. A case in point is hospital acquired healthcare infections.

Hospital-acquired infections represent a direct threat to patient safety and health care quality. When SEIU 1199 analyzed 2005 discharge data for Massachusetts’s hospitals, we found that nearly 8 out of every 100 inpatients may have acquired an infection while in the hospital. We also found that the mortality rate among inpatients with a possible hospital acquired infection was 8.8%, compared to a mortality rate of 1.6% among inpatients without an infection. In 2005 alone, possible MA hospital acquired infections were associated with an additional 4,619 deaths.

Hospital acquired infections are life threatening, but they are also very costly.

When we analyzed the Massachusetts discharge data from FY2005, we found that possible hospital acquired infections were associated with nearly a half million additional hospital days, totaling 12% of all hospital days. These infections were associated with an additional $1.9 billion in charges, totaling 13% of all hospital inpatient charges.

Eliminating “never” events is good policy. Eliminating most hospital-acquired infections is still better, and will improve patient care, increase hospital efficiency and reduce healthcare costs. Yet even though there are simple and effective methods that can dramatically reduce the incidence of hospital acquired infections, many Massachusetts hospitals have not fully implemented them.

My mother was recently discharged from a hospital in California (where she ended up in intensive care), for rehab so she could go home to her assisted living accommodations. But within two days of entering a rehab facility, she came down with an intestinal bug that was sweeping the home. For the last 9 days, the facility has been in “lock down”, and she has made only marginal progress because patients are not allowed to leave their room. How much is that costing insurers? How big a toll is it taking on my mother’s health, and how much stress has it placed on my family? And what is that cost for every patient, family, and insurer that faces this problem?

Hospitals will eliminate hospital acquired infections when patients, physicians and payers are armed with hospital specific information about the rate of hospital acquired infections; the costs of infections in terms of dollars, lives and health consequences are known; and hospitals are prohibited from billing for hospital acquired infections. In that context, the Department of Health’s initiative to regulate the reporting of selected hospital acquired infection rates, combined with regulations requiring processes to reduce hospital acquired infections, is a positive first step towards eliminating hospital acquired infections.

Celia Wcislo, MA Asst. Division Director, 1199SEIU

This program aired on January 15, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.