Hospitals are supposed to be a place of healing. A place where the sick can go to get better.
All too often, however, the exact opposite happens.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, almost 700,000 people got sick from a hospital-acquired infection last year, and of that number, nearly 75,000 were fatal.
Consumer Reports recently released safety rankings of more than 3,000 hospitals in the U.S. Only 16 made it to the top in terms of preventing common infections such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) and C.diff (clostridium difficile).
Doris Peter with Consumer Reports said the group put together data on five different kinds of infections but focused on MRSA and C.diff because of the impact.
“I think we feel that the burden of illness and the problems that are faced by patients when they acquire these infections are significant,” Peter explained.
According to Peter, 60,000 people are infected with MRSA in a hospital every year and 8,000 people die. While, 300,000 people are infected with C.diff and 27,000 people die.
Peter said hospitals have improved cleaning practices but that is only part of the problem.
“There are advances in hygiene but I think the other problems are that you have a lot of community-onset illness that is then brought into hospital and also illness from other facilities that are transferred back and forth to hospitals,” she said.
Another issue is the overuse of antibiotics. While the drugs are medical breakthroughs that have saved thousands of lives, the overuse causes drug-resistant bacteria.
“So on the one hand, you’re overusing antibiotics and causing resistance which ends up in these MRSA infections and other hospital-acquired infections," Peter explained. "With C-diff you have overuse of antibiotics which then kills the natural flora in your body, the bacteria that normally live there that are good for you, and lets the C-diff colonized and takeover your gut and causing all of these terrible symptoms and sometimes death.”
C.diff and MRSA are relatively new infections that researchers have just started tracking. Hospitals did much better controlling infections they have been working to prevent for a long time, such as central line infections.
One of the hospitals in Las Vegas that did well with that area in the Consumer Reports' list was Centennial Hills.
Centennial Hills received a safety ranking of 61, compared to University Medical Center, which was at the bottom of the list with a safety ranking of 26.
Centennial Hills is a for-profit hospital, and is equipped with 165 beds, whereas UMC is the county hospital equipped with 541 beds.
UMC gave us the following statement:
"UMC is under brand new leadership. The Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer have communicated that their top priorities are focusing on the highest level of quality care. Our most recent quarterly data show specific improvement in CAUTI (catheter-associated urinary tract infection) rates; and a multidisciplinary team of nursing, administration, and medical staff have promoted active campaigns for avoiding infections by incorporating best clinical practices, such as multidisciplinary clinical rounding, resulting in improved outcomes.”
Dr. Andy Eisen is the president of the Clark County Medical Society. He said there are many differences between Centennial Hills and UMC.
He said all hospitals are working on ways to eliminate the problem; however, the way hospitals work now is different than even 15 or 20 years ago.
“Patients in the hospital are much, much sicker than they had been previously,”
Eisen said, explaining that patients that would have been admitted to the hospital a dozen years ago are now receiving out patient treatment, those that are in-hospital patients would have been in the intensive care unit and those in the ICU probably would not have survived.
“Those kinds of improvements have led to more vulnerable patients in the hospital and that’s certainly a contributing factor as well,” he said.
He said all hospitals, physicians, nurses, and everyone in the health care industry need the data from the Consumer Reports project to find solutions.
“I think what matters most is using these data to develop the kinds of programs and protocols that will reduce risks for patients in the long run,” Eisen said.
The doctor also points out that patients and their families have a role in preventing infections.
“There are steps that patients and families need to take as well to reduce the risk," Eisen said. "They need to be informed patients. They need to be active patients and they need to understand their role as part of the team that is going to address their own health care needs.”
He said people can ask a doctor or nurse to wash his or her hands, if they didn't see them wash. He advises people to ask about the antibiotics they're given and if they really need them.
Eisen said improvements are being made but no one thinks it is going fast enough.
“None of this is moving quickly enough for those of us who take care of patients to be happy," he said. "We want it to be fixed immediately, but these things take some time.”
For both Eisen and Peter, making patients and health care providers aware of the potential problem is a step towards getting it under control.
Doris Peter, director, Consumer Reports' health ratings center; Ernesto Abel Santos, biochemistry professor, UNLV; Andy Eisen, president, Clark County Medical Society
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