By definition, hospitals are supposed to boost our health. But they often do quite the opposite. An estimated 2 million Americans annually acquire infections in hospitals, and 90,000 of them die -- twice the number of those who die in all traffic accidents. In fact, more people die from hospital-acquired infections than die from traffic accidents, AIDS and breast cancer combined. And that doesn't even count an estimated 1.5 million health-care related infections acquired in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Such deadly infections are often due to negligent or careless behavior by health-care personnel. Yet for many years such personnel claimed they were merely being "human" and that patients were subject to an inevitable statistical possibility for infection in a hospital.
MRSA infection rate can be trackedToday, the "inevitable risk" shield for hospitals is evaporating. Research shows that almost all hospital-acquired infections are preventable. Besides, try telling a mother of three whose husband dies from a hospital-acquired infection that it was simply a statistical probability. When an infection is preventable, no excuse is good enough.
It would help if the public knew which hospitals and which treatments bore the most risk of infection. And such help is on the way. Due to the spread in hospitals of "superbugs" such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), many states are passing laws which require hospitals to report their infection rates for various ailments.
In recent years, 26 of the nation's states have passed laws requiring that infection rates be reported, including Texas in 2007. Yet infection rates in Texas still haven't been made public, because the Texas Legislature still hasn't funded the reporting system. And in many other states, such reports are made solely to the state but are not made public.
Hand-washing would prevent many deathsMeanwhile, between 130,000 and 160,000 Texans each year suffer health-care related infections, which also can come from pediatric hospitals, home care and ambulatory surgical centers, reports the state health department.
Often such infections spread due to care givers' failure to follow simple, basic precautions such as washing their hands before and after a procedure. In fact, the CDC believes that half of infections could be avoided simply by care givers cleaning their hands before they touch a patient.
Litigation increases for hospital infectionsWithout relentless adherence to such precautions, the slightest touch between a health-care provider and a patient can infect the patient with deadly bacteria. That's why groups such as the non-profit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) have been formed. It's also why Medicare recently announced it no longer will pay hospitals to treat preventable infections acquired in a hospital, while barring hospitals from billing patients for what Medicare won't pay. And it's also why litigation is increasing in this realm.
As a result, some hospitals are making infection prevention a major priority -- a priority which should become more evident once Texas' infection reporting system gets underway. In the meantime, patients should be wary of health care for its infection potential. That's why RID offers patients 15 steps to reduce risk of infection. It's your life, so take that life into your own hands and insist on proper care.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times