The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are 1.7 million infection cases a year in hospitals. The annual cost of these infections is estimated to be $20 billion, and tens of thousands of lives.
According to an article in the October 8, 2008 New York Times, “a survey of hospitals last year by the Leapfrog Group, which advocates for health-care quality, found that 87% did not consistently follow infection-control guidelines. Studies have found that half of hospital workers do not follow hand-washing protocols."
In an effort to try to control the infection problem, the American Hospital Association has teamed up with a number of other groups in an attempt to standardize infection control guidelines, and to prevent six lethal infectious conditions. These six conditions are largely preventable and include central-line-associated bloodstream infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, (the dreaded MRSA infection), and an intestinal bacteria called Clostridium difficile. One of the other members of the team is the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), the group that monitors and accredits hospitals. The JCAHO intends to adopt at least some of the infection prevention guidelines in its accrediting standards in 2010. Meanwhile there will be over 3 million more hospital infections, many of them preventable through very simple measures.
Most of the infection prevention recommendations are extremely simple, and include items like vigorous hand-washing before insertion of catheters and not using razors to remove hair before surgery. Virtually all of the infection control recommendations have been around for at least 20 years, but simply are not being followed.
The new rules are not a lot different than what our parents have been telling us all along: “wash your hands so you don't get sick". In the case of hospitals, the rule is “wash your hands so you don't make others sick”. It all seems so simple.