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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.

Do the Elderly Need to be Protected From Their Doctors?

Patients often make the mistake of believing they can place their full confidence and trust in the skill and knowledge of their medical providers, many times not realizing that neglect or medical malpractice can be fairly common, especially among the elderly.

A study published online last May in the medical journal Injury Prevention found that one in five Medicare patients suffered an injury from medical treatment not related to their underlying condition. The study drew attention to outpatient care, citing that most of the malpractice happened in doctors’ offices, clinics, surgery centers and nursing homes, with one-third occurring in hospitals.

Researchers noted that the more delicate the health of the patient, the more likely it was that he or she would experience a medical injury during treatment. They found that elderly patients were often more vulnerable to being given the wrong medications or receiving treatments that could induce allergic reactions or additional complications, adding to their previously existing underlying illnesses or problems.

The study also drew attention to complications that go hand-in-hand with medical malpractice–death rates are estimated to double when additional injuries occur with the elderly, along with increased health care costs due to extended and comprehensive follow-up treatment.

The focus of this study is to recognize the cause of unnecessary medical injuries that elderly patients are experiencing. It is also a wake-up call for members of the health care profession on the need to be educated in geriatric medicine, and understand that the elderly, because they are more vulnerable than healthy young adults, need a greater degree of care and protection when receiving medical treatment.