We go to hospitals to get better, but sometimes the hospital can be just as dangerous as an illness. Hospital and healthcare-associated infections, infections that patients get while undergoing treatment at a health care facility, are still surprisingly common. These infections can quickly turn deadly when left undiagnosed.
According to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every day in the United States, 1 in 25 patients contract a hospital-associated infection (HAI). About 722,000 patients contracted an HAI in 2011, and about 75,000 of those patients died during their hospital stay.
Defining Hospital-Associated Infections
Hospital-associated infections (HAI) are infections that patients suffer after being treated in a health care facility. HAIs are infections that are unrelated to the original condition of the patient; a relapse of the original diagnosis of the patient is not an HAI. Some HAIs appear after the patient has left the hospital. Usually, an infection will be considered an HAI if it developed within 48 hours of being treated in a health care facility.
What Causes Hospital-Associated Infections?
Hospital-associated infections are usually the result of unclean surgical tools and medical equipment. Sometimes this is the result of bad practices on the part of doctors and hospitals, and sometimes the device itself is dysfunctional. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regularly recalls medical devices for a variety of reasons. Recently the FDA recalled some endoscopes (tubes used in endoscopic surgeries) because the recommended cleaning instructions did not always leave the tool sterilized.
HAIs are also caused by health care professional negligence. Hospital staff must follow strict hygiene guidelines to ensure patient safety. Breaches in these guidelines like re-using medical equipment or failing to follow sterilization guidelines can result in life-threatening infections.
Hospitals and health care professionals can be held liable for damages if their negligence caused an injurious infection.
What Kinds of Infections?
According to a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the 6 most common HAIs were:
- Pneumonia, 157,500 patients
- Surgical Site Infections (Inpatient Surgery), 157,500
- Gastrointestinal Illness, 123,100 patients
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTI), 93,300
- Primary Bloodstream Infections (like Staph and MERSA), 71,900
- Other Types of Infections, 118,500
Other infections include respiratory infections, skin infections, cardiovascular infections, bone and joint infections, and central nervous system infections.
Improving Patient Care
Hospital-associated infections are preventable. The CDC reports that some HAIs, like blood infections from central lines, are up to 70% preventable by following simple safety measures.
The CDC, along with many other health care organizations, offers recommendations to prevent healthcare-associated infections. Most of the recommendations are easy steps doctors and nurses can take that will make big impacts in reducing HAIs. Recommendations include:
- Comply with CDC hand hygiene guidelines
- Remove unnecessary central lines
- Keep OR doors closed during surgery
- Avoid hair removal at operation site
- Treat remote infections before elective surgeries
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of a healthcare-associated infection, you should to speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discover whether you have a cause of action.