According to a recent study by the Alliance for Aging Research, hospital acquired infections (HAIs) are costing the healthcare system $45 billion a year and lead to 99,000 deaths every year. The spread of HAIs to nearly 1.7 million patients a year has become a crisis. What may be most alarming is that despite the number of surveillance programs hospitals have adopted to combat these infections, the growing cost suggests these actions may be futile.
These surveillance programs on the market today include everything from germicidal wipes to sophisticated devices that disinfect rooms such as UV programs from Lumalier and Xenex. According to the Alliance for Aging Research, it is believed that as much as 45% of the infections occur in those patients over 65 years old and is not related to any particular sex. Other patients with higher HAI’s are pediatric patients younger than 1 year, low birth weight babies, and children in the NICU. Much of the infections noted come from several primary sources including catheter related urinary tract infections, central line infections, surgical site infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia.
Hospitals today are faced with elderly patients that are highly susceptible to these infections because of their lowered immune system and increasing resistance to antibiotic. As a part-time practicing emergency room nurse, I typically see the large, aging baby-boomer population waiting to the very last minute to seek care. They have often reached a peak period where hospitals are faced with the daunting and sometimes unrealistic challenge of turning the sickest patient around.
However, despite this somewhat grim outlook, an article published earlier this year by Medscape indicated that hospitals are actually making strides to reduce overall HAIs. They stressed that it takes a champion in the hospital to take on these initiatives and to coordinate efforts and introduce best practices based on research and clinical evidence. Much of the buzz over the last few years has been about the decrease in reimbursements for the cost and longer length of stay associated with these acquired infections, but there continues to be a vested interest from state and federal agencies, as well as professional societies, to try and share as much evidence based information to assist with implementing the best programs for individual facilities. The Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC) has also developed guidelines for isolation precautions to prevent transmission.
Of course, one cannot stress enough to healthcare providers that standard precautions are to be applied to the care of all patients regardless of suspected infections and to remember that hand washing continues to be the single, number one deterrence for the spread of hospital acquired infections.