Every year in the United States, an astounding 80,000 patients in American hospitals develop bloodstream infections related to the use of catheters. Catheter-related bloodstream infections, or CRBIs, are related to the small medical tubes which are inserted for a variety of reasons, including to administer medication and nutrition, and to monitor a patient’s blood flow. Depending on many things, including the condition and overall health of the patient, these infections can be anywhere from simple-to-treat to life-threatening. Indeed, of the 80,000 patients infected annually, 30,000 die from the infection. Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers find these figures completely unacceptable, especially in light of the new evidence that almost all such deaths can be prevented.
CRBIs often occur when a catheter is left in too long, or is improperly prepared in the first place. Now, a new study has shown that almost all CRBIs are caused by the negligence of hospitals and staff. Indeed, CRBIs would be virtually wiped out if hospital workers would only follow a startlingly simple set of five basic rules: (1) Wash their hands with soap prior to inserting or treating the catheter; (2) clean the patient’s skin with an effective antiseptic prior to inserting the catheter; (3) put sterile drapes over the entire patient before inserting the catheter; (4) wear a sterile mask, hat, gown and gloves; and (5) after insertion, put a sterile dressing over the catheter site.
The study, part of a federally-funded program, looked at the effects of these measures in the intensive-care units of Michigan hospitals. When these simple measures were put in place, the rate of CRBIs dropped by two-thirds. It is estimated that in the 18-months of the study, these measures saved 1,500 lives and an astounding $200 million.
There requirements are hardly complicated. Indeed, many of them, such as the simple expedient of handwashing, are no more than common sense. Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are surely not the only ones to note that the failure to follow such simple and common-sense measures is almost certainly actionable negligence. And the same study shows that CRBIs, and the fatalities from them, can also be greatly reduced by evaluating, on a daily basis, whether the benefits of the catheter justify an additional day of risk, and using electronic monitoring to quickly identify CRBIs and aggressively treat them.
Not only is it no more than humane to adopt these measures, should hospitals need more persuasion they should note that it is also cost-effective. Peter Pronovost, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who helped to oversee the study, estimates that implementing the safety program described above costs around $3,000 per infection. Treating these infections, however, costs the hospital between $30,000 and $36,000. Thus, he estimates that most hospitals could save around $1 million per year.
So, why hasn’t this occurred? The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology just released a survey which may contain the answer, and it does not reflect well on the leadership of American hospitals. It appears that ignorance and neglect, in short, medical malpractice, are all that has prevented these simple measures from saving money and lives.
The survey received 2,075 responses, largely from hospital infection-control nurses. The responses identified a number of obstacles to the implementation of infection-prevention measures. A startling seven out of ten respondents said that they were simply not given adequate time for training, so hospital workers were unaware of the infection-control procedures. Almost one-third of the respondents said that enforcing the procedures, not educating workers about them, was the biggest challenge. And twenty percent of respondents said that their hospitals’ administrators (in what is surely a short-sighted position) are unwilling to spend the necessary funds.
Hospital administrators must be awakened to the folly of their inaction. If the simple facts have not done it, the time has come for harsher forms of persuasion. Especially in light of the new evidence that virtually all such infections are the result of negligence, the victims of CRBIs, and their families, must take legal action against the hospitals and staff whose negligence has caused their suffering. Perhaps jury verdicts and punitive damages will persuade these hospitals to protect their patients. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a CRBI, we urge you to talk to a top medical malpractice attorney about whether you might have a claim. Your action might not only bring you justice, but save lives.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.