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Hospital-acquired Infections Cost Nearly $10 Billion Annually: A Study

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Sep 03, 2013 04:00 PM EDT
The use of disposable gowns and gloves by health care workers when entering all patient rooms in an ICU, rather than only those on standard isolation protocol, reduces a patient's chances of acquiring some bacteria-caused illnesses, though not all, according to a new report. (Photo : Reuters)

Billions of dollars are lost every year in treating hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine shows.

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In all, the report reveals that an estimated $9.8 billion is spent annually in order to treat the five most common infections picked up in the hospital. These include bloodstream infections; ventilator-associated pneumonia; surgical site infections, infection by Clostridium difficile, a strain of bacteria that attacks the digestive system; and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

While bloodstream infections were found to be the most costly at an average of $45,814, surgical site infections contributed the most to overall costs, totalling nearly 34 percent, the researchers found.

In order to determine cost estimates, the team reviewed PubMed data dating between 1986 and 2013. Meanwhile, the scientists relied on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Healthcare Safety Network to derive HAI incident estimates. All costs were inflated to 2012 US dollars.

According to a CDC report, HAIs affect between 5 and 10 percent of patients hospitalized in the US every year, resulting in some 99,000 deaths. For this reason, the agency says it is working with a number of partners to test a variety of infection control strategies.

For example, the CDC has collaborated with the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative to target catheter-associated bloodstream infections linked to intensive care units.

In doing so, the agency "provided technical assistance to hospitals, healthcare purchasers, and insurance companies to design and promote a multi-faceted intervention based on CDC infection control recommendations." The strategy, according to the agency, includes "educational models and standardized tools for hospital staff, and comparison data for participating hospitals."

The approach has since been implemented at 32 hospitals and 66 ICUs throughout the southwestern region of the state, resulting in a 68 percent drop in infections in four years, according to the CDC.

However, the authors of the JAMA study warn that even though "quality improvement initiatives have decreased HAI incidence and costs, much more remains to be done." Thus, by putting a clear number to the costs hospitals face in treating HAIs, the authors argue that health facilities "may be more likely to invest" in strategies like the one used in Pennsylvania.

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