Patients were less likely to get certain infections in U.S. hospitals last year thanks to a concerted campaign to prevent them, federal officials announced on Wednesday.
They found a 33 percent reduction in central-line infections – caused when a thin tube is inserted into a patient’s neck or chest to deliver medication and check blood. Infections caused by catheters used to collect urine from bed-bound patients fell by 7 percent in 2010; surgical-site infections fell 10 percent; and dangerous methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, infections dropped 18 percent.
“It is very impressive progress,” Dr. Denise Cardo, director of the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told a National Journal policy forum where she presented the figures.
The CDC, the Health and Human Services Department, and nonprofit groups such as the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology have been pushing to reduce infections in hospitals.
The CDC estimates that one in 20 patients -- 1.7 million a year -- will get some sort of infection while in the hospital. And 99,000 people die of these infections annually. GE Healthcare released a report in July estimating that health care-associated infections cost at least $35 billion.
HHS developed its official "Action Plan to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections" in 2009, and CDC credits some of its goals with helping hospitals make the 2010 reductions.
“Timely progress has been made toward most targets for which associated data are available. Although this progress is promising, continued efforts are needed to achieve the goals in the Action Plan,” the report reads.
One of the main goals is keeping data on hospital-acquired infections so that health care facilities can keep track of where they may be going wrong – and make note of when new practices such a using checklists start to turn things around.
“What gets measured gets managed,” Linda Greene, director of infection prevention for New York's Rochester General Health System, said at the forum.
Under the 2010 health care law, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will eventually stop paying for treating patients who get infected while in the hospital.
Cardo also credits groups such as Consumers Union, which has pushed for better collection of data on hospital infections and on policy measures to force health care facilities to act. “If it weren’t for Consumers Union pushing for public reporting, we wouldn’t be here now,” Cardo said.
Health insurers are on board, too, trying to lower costs. America's Health Insurance Plans, the largest insurance-industry lobby group, reported in August on success stories in which hospitals were paid for meeting infection-control goals.
One program in Tennessee reduced central-line-associated bloodstream infections by 40 percent, AHIP reported.