Some hospital officials object that, since the average hospital infection adds $30,000 to a patient’s bill, this is simply the “cost of doing business.” But this attitude is disingenuous, since the biggest push for more effective methods to combat hospital-acquired infections (HAI) may come, sadly, from the threat of huge lawsuits. Many of these cases have been settled with hospitals in which HAI have resulted in patient deaths. Moreover, as Allen observes, while hospitals have traditionally passed on their costs to other payers, Medicare—which sets reimbursement standards—is starting to curtail payments to cover hospital errors, and may eventually stop paying to treat infections that could have been prevented. Some private insurers may ultimately follow suit.
Disclaimer: Don’t let me Frighten You
All of the above facts about HAI have been in the news for some time. Some physician friends, including a medical director of a major health insurance company, have warned, “Whatever you do, stay out of the hospital,” Such radical advice is obviously not to be taken literally, especially if one recalls that the hospital is the only place where major surgical procedures are performed, and where life-saving high level medical care is administered to seriously ill patients. My purpose here is to inform without alarming, and to make the reader a more skeptical patient, one who asks:
1.”Could I be treated as an outpatient rather than be admitted to a hospital?”
2.”Why should I go into the hospital just for tests if I’m not sick?”
3.”How soon can I get out of here?,” and to the nurse, doctor, or person who brought in the lunch tray:
4. “Have you washed your hands in the last five minutes?”
Things are changing for the better. A growing number of physicians and health care experts say patients have the right to know a hospital’s infection rate before being admitted-and before long this information will be available in 28 more states. Many hospitals have launched efforts to reduce infection rates which can immediately be lowered by such simple steps as hand-washing between patients by all personnel, sterilization and following rigorous practices during procedures with a high risk of infection. In 2002, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence began search and destroy, and the MRSA infection rate at the hospital has dropped 43 percent. The University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville imposed the same system in 1980, and has maintained lower rates of MRSA and other infections. Thanks to increasing public pressure, other institutions are following suit. Don’t be afraid to add your voice to the crowd.
Copyright 2006, Mathemedics, Inc.