The Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell have long maintained that preventing hospital-acquired infections is as much a matter of common sense as it is of expertise. Now, with pressure from the public and from Medicare mounting on hospitals to reduce infection rates, hospitals have decided to take action with a combination of the two: experts whose job is to teach common sense to doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers.
In light of the mounting toll of illness and death from preventable hospital-acquired infections, drastic measures are certainly warranted. Experts estimate that hospital-acquired infections (including infections acquired at surgical centers and other healthcare facilities) are responsible for nearly 100,000 preventable deaths in America each year. And these are just the fatalities. American patients suffer 1.7 million – yes, million – hospital-acquired infections annually. This adds an estimated $20 billion to Americans’ healthcare costs each year.
These numbers have led to increasing public outcry, but not to change. But now, this shocking death toll has caused the federal government to take notice. Now, the federal government has demanded that hospitals cut specific types of infections by 50 percent over the next several years. And Medicare, the single biggest hospital-payer on the block, has already started slashing payments to hospitals who are behind the curve. Under the recently-passed federal healthcare reform law, these cuts will become more severe in 2015. Our medical malpractice lawyers can only hope it will be enough.
Hospitals are responding by hiring infection preventionists, whose sole job is to force hospitals to take steps to bring down infection rates. There are less than 10,000 infection preventionists practicing in the United States, according to the industry group the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. Until recently they have been largely relegated to compiling statistics on infection rates, or sometimes providing advice and information about specific types of infection.
Now, with the growing pressure from Medicare, these professionals are seeing their roles increase.
At the University of Maryland Medical Center, these germ cops have implemented a number of measures to prevent infections. In the ICU, all doctors, nurses, and visitors must cover up with special gowns and gloves before going in to a patient’s room. Even the janitors must wear special gloves, which are changed in between such tasks as emptying the trash and moving carts also used by nurses. Special warning placards are posted on the doors of patients with symptoms raising a suspicion of the presence of various antibiotic-resistant bugs, so that special protection and sterilization measures can be taken. And germ experts behave like doctors, making patient rounds where they look for infection problems before they occur.
These measures have paid off in spades. Throughout the hospital, infections from central line catheters have decreased by 70 percent over the course of the past year. And it has been 24 weeks since the last such infection in the surgical ICU, a veritable miracle in hospital circles.
Our top medical malpractice lawyers are encouraged to see hospitals beginning to take the problem of preventable infections seriously. Yet we cannot help but continue to be baffled as to how it has come to this. Medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, are intelligent, highly-educated individuals. Although we certainly do not mean to minimize the importance or expertise of infection preventionists, we cannot help but wonder why these educated professionals need an expert to tell them to do such simple things as wash their hands, sanitize, and remember to put on their exam gloves. Yet studies show that the failure to do these simple things is responsible for many, if not most, of certain types of hospital-acquired infections.
We encourage hospitals to continue to hire infection preventionists, and to heed their advice. But we also encourage hospitals, and other healthcare providers, to heed the warnings of common sense, and to put in place and follow basic sanitary procedures. In the meantime, we encourage the victims of these infections, and their loved ones, to speak up, to demand change, and to take legal action if necessary. The changes you force your hospital to make could save many lives.
For a Free Consultation with a top-rated Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.