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Hospital infection debate heats up in Washington state

Friday, February 17, 2006

Washington Lawmaker Takes Aim at Hospital Infections

House-Passed Hospital Infection Reporting Bill
Goes Before Senate Health Committee on Monday, February 20

OLYMPIA, WA Hospital-acquired infections are a leading cause of death to Americans – more than homicides and car accidents combined – and result in needless suffering for many others who develop infection-related illnesses. Under legislation proposed by Representative Tom Campbell, Washington hospitals would be required to report infections their patients get during treatment. This information would then be made available to the public so consumers could find out whether their local hospital is doing a good job keeping patients safe.
HB 1015 has already been approved by the Washington House and is now pending in the Senate Health & Long Term Care Committee. But the bill faces strong opposition from the hospital lobby, which has managed to stall the bill for the last several sessions.
“The problem of hospital-acquired infections is the best kept healthcare secret in the U.S. and our hospitals know they are not doing all they can to prevent them,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Stop Hospital Infections Project (www.StopHospitalInfections.org). “This legislation will improve patient care by giving hospitals a strong incentive to improve their infection control efforts.”
While statistics for Washington are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate about 90,000 Americans die each year from these infections. Another 1.9 million people nationwide who develop such infections endure longer stays in the hospital recovering and getting treated. Approximately five to ten percent of all hospital patients develop infections, which add nearly $5 billion to the nation’s healthcare bill each year.
Many infections could be prevented if hospitals did a better job following proven infection control practices, like hand washing, and adopted the use of clinically proven prevention strategies. Unfortunately, many hospitals have not made infection prevention a priority. According to the National Quality Forum, studies have shown that hand washing compliance rates are generally less than 50 percent.
Research by the American Health Quality Association has shown that up to half of all surgical site infections could be avoided with the appropriate use of antibiotics before surgery. But only
55 percent of a sample of Medicare patients received antibiotics in the recommended time frame prior to surgery, according to a study published in the Archives of Surgery in February 2005.
HB 1015 requires the Department of Health to collect data on hospital acquired infection rates from each hospital in the state. Under the bill, the agency would be required to publish a report on its web site that compares the data it has collected from each hospital.
“Washington hospitals testified that they are doing a lot to prevent infections, which is great,” said McGiffert. “But until they report their results to the public, we have no way of knowing if their actions are actually reducing infections. ”
Six states have adopted laws requiring hospitals to disclose information about infections to the public. In 2002, Illinois became the first state to pass such a law. Since that time, the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council approved a plan for infection rate reporting and Florida, Missouri, New York, and Virginia adopted disclosure laws. Pennsylvania and Florida are the only states that have issued reports based on infection data collected from hospitals.
For more information on the Pennsylvania report, see:
http://www.phc4.org/reports/researchbriefs/071205/default.htm and http://www.phc4.org/reports/researchbriefs/111705/default.htm.
For more information on the Florida report, see: http://www.floridacomparecare.gov/(yz0pilar0ist3o551nq3xu55)/Default.aspx
Consumers Union’s Stop Hospital Infections project is working to enact public disclosure laws so that consumers can select the safest hospitals and competition among hospitals will force the worst to improve. More information about hospital acquired infections and Consumers Union’s campaign can be found at: www.StopHospitalInfections.org.
Lisa McGiffert: (512) 477-4431, ext. 115