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Hospitals Need to Report Infectious Outbreaks

 

 “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants…”

    – Louis Brandeis

The CDC estimates that there are approximately 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections each year, resulting in almost 100,000 wrongful deaths.

According to the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID), the most dangerous hospital-acquired infection is MRSA, a superbug that has become resistant to antibiotics. Hospital infections that are closely behind are vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE) and Clostridium Dificil (C-Diff).

In many states, health officials require hospitals to disclose information regarding infectious outbreaks. While some willingly comply, there is no incentive for hospitals to report because in most cases there are no regulatory or financial penalties for hospitals that don’t release such vital information.

There have been cases when records of infections have been released months or even years after known outbreaks, preventing patients from making informed decisions about which hospitals they choose to trust for their care.

Advocates for easily accessible infection information believe that when hospitals do not release outbreak information, they cannot truly improve the quality of care they provide to patients.

Often, lethal outbreaks have only been disclosed in public medical journals written by the doctors who treated infected patients. Concealing vital information which should be publicly disclosed places countless lives in danger.

As of October 2011, state legislation on healthcare-associated infections included 30 states that had laws requiring infectious diseases to be reported publicly. Five states, including Arizona, still give hospitals the option to voluntarily disclose infectious outbreaks or non-publicly report them to the Division of Health of the State Department of Health and Human Services. The remainder of the states have pending healthcare-associated infection legislations or no laws at all on reporting infectious outbreak information.

What is it going to take to end the silence?

States need to take immediate action to force hospitals to publicly disclose vital information about infection rates to patients. Reporting requirements should be amended to include strict regulatory and financial penalties for non-compliance.

The most vulnerable populations–the young, the elderly, and those with delicate immune systems–are the ones at most risk to contract an infection in a hospital. Through appropriate penalty-based reporting systems, hospitals can be held accountable and hopefully incentivized to take proactive steps to curtail hospital-acquired infection rates.

Medical Errors: Patients Deserve Safety

Last summer, a Senate sub-committee on patient safety heard testimony that preventable medical errors in hospitals were the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The committee had called a hearing after a study appeared in the Journal of Patient Safety that found that more than 400,000 patients die each year from preventable injuries suffered in hospitals.

Tragically, patients are suffering medical malpractice not just in hospitals—medical injuries can often result from a delayed or wrong diagnosis at a doctor’s office, from receiving the wrong medication, from medical error or acquiring an infection during a procedure, or from inadequate care at a skilled nursing facility or nursing home.

With the goal of improving patient safety and increasing medical provider accountability, two organizations launched grass-roots efforts to collect patient stories and lobby for change and transparency.

Safe Patient Project

In 2003, Consumer’s Union, which publishes Consumer’s Reports, launched an initiative to reduce hospital infection rates, which eventually became the Safe Patient Project. Their efforts helped pass patient safety laws in 27 states that require public reporting of infection rates.

The Safe Patient Project has now expanded to much more than preventing medically transmitted infections. If a patient has been harmed by medical errors, the Safe Patient Project is ready to collect their story, which they will use to lobby for improved patient safety. Their website is easy to navigate and stories are collected in the following areas:

  • Healthcare-Acquired Infections
  • Medical Errors
  • Doctor Accountability
  • Hip and Knee Replacement

The Safe Patient Project website also has an active blog that offers patient safety information, such as, “3 Questions to Ask Your Doctors About Your Medications,” “6 Questions to Ask Before Getting a CT Scan or X-Ray,” and “A Surprising Way to Avoid Medical Errors in the Hospital.”

According to the Safe Patient Project, if you are planning a hospital stay, ask a friend or relative to monitor your care, insist that nurses and doctors wash their hands, and ask about medications that are unfamiliar. Also make sure hospital staff checks your wristband when delivering medication and make sure that any surgical site is marked.

Patient Voice Institute

Like the Safe Patient Project, the Patient Voice Institute is a non-profit patient advocacy organization that collects patient stories and lobbies for positive change in patient safety and dignity.

The Patient Voice Institute also has a blog on their website with patient stories about their experiences and how patients and their families were motivated to effect change. One story talks about the late architect Michael Graves, who was paralyzed by a rare virus and had a dehumanizing hospital experience. Another story is written by a mother who tragically lost her 22-year-old son due to medical error during brain surgery. She later helped pass a patient protection law in Colorado.

The more informed you are as a patient, the less likely you are to become a medical error statistic. The more patient groups shine a light on the vast numbers of such errors, the more likely medical institutions are to effectuate positive changes for patient safety.