Although some hospitals are doing an excellent job of preventing hospital-acquired infections, others are not, according to our recent analysis.
We focused on one of the most dreaded types of the approximately 1.7 million infections that occur each year in U.S. hospitals. They are bloodstream infections introduced through the large intravenous catheters that deliver medication, nutrition, and fluids to patients in intensive care. These so-called central-line infections account for about 15 percent of all hospital infections but are responsible for at least 30 percent of the 99,000 annual hospital-infection-related deaths, according to the best estimates available.
Even for those who survive, a central-line infection means weeks or months of debilitating treatments and side effects.
"I certainly did not expect to go through the torture that happened to me," said Carol Bradley, 61, a registered nurse from Nashville, Tenn., who developed several types of infections, including a bloodstream infection, after surgery for stomach cancer in August 2008. As a result, she spent about three weeks in intensive care hooked up to feeding and breathing tubes and central-line catheters, and more than a year on antibiotics.
For decades, doctors considered central-line infections an unavoidable risk of intensive care. But determined reformers have now shown that hospitals can cut their infection rate to zero or close to it by following a low-tech program that includes a simple checklist. Want proof? See our list of hospitals that report zero central-line infections.
Citizen activists across the country, including those working with Consumer Reports, have helped to enact laws in most, states forcing hospitals to publicly disclose their infection rates as a first step, it's hoped, toward improving them. Many of the states have made that information publicly available.