Hospital-Acquired Infections Need Urgent Attention, Says HHS Report

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Is the hospital one’s best option for illness? Maybe not, according to a troubling report by the Health and Human Services (HHS) department, writes the Associated Press (AP). Hospital-acquired infections in the United States are in need of “urgent attention,” according to the document.

The 2009 HHS quality account to Congress indicated that “very little progress” has occurred eradicating hospital-acquired infections, said the AP. Of the five most severe hospital-related infections, three increased, one remained the same and only one declined.

Alarmingly, about 98,000 people die annually from medical mix-ups, errors and  preventable infections. HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, says the report is “a pretty clear diagnosis of some of the gaps and shortcomings in our nation’s health care system,” quoted the AP.

When the new health care overhaul mandates begin, these mistakes will come with financial “consequences,” said the AP. Medicare payments will be reduced to hospitals with preventable readmissions and for specific infections that can be avoided with standard nursing care.

In 2006, hospital-acquired infections killed 48,000 and cost a staggering $8.1 billion, citing a study funded by Resources for the Future. Experts speculate that these issues are adding to the exploding health care cost in the United States. “In many cases, these conditions could have been avoided with better infection control in hospitals,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of Resources for the Future, quoted Reuters. The team said approximately 1.7 million healthcare-associated infections are diagnosed annually, wrote Reuters.

The U.S. spends $2.5 trillion annually on medical care, but that varies according to facility and often, economic status. The studies revealed: In-hospital care is considered better than outpatient; minorities and lower-income persons, such as the uninsured, receive less attention, said the AP.

The Institute of Medicine initiated a program for medical error awareness over a decade ago, but the new statistics show slight improvement. “We know that focused attention to eliminating health care acquired infections can reduce them dramatically,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, head of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which conducted the studies, quoted the AP.

Infection prevention is relatively simple, explained Reuters earlier this year. It involves careful hand washing, hygiene, and screening patients when they check in; however, many studies say these measures are hard to enforce.