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Hospital Acquired Infections Cost Lives and Money

Patients in hospitals expect to be competently treated for their medical problems. They expect their broken bones to be mended, their surgeries to be successful, their infections and diseases cured. Parents expect that their children will be made well, and families expect their loved ones pain to be ameliorated. The last thing patients expect is for the hospital to make them sicker, or cause them to die.

But in some hospitals just that seems to be happening, and at an alarming rate. In a study published yesterday in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the authors estimate that 1.7 million patients in American hospitals suffer from a hospital acquired infection each year. Hospital acquired infections are those that the patient gets while in the hospital, during treatment for the disease or medical condition the patient was admitted to the institution for. Additionally, the authors estimate that in 2006, approximately 48, 000 of patients who suffered from hospital acquired infections died as a result. The study revealed that one patient out of every five who developed sepsis died; one patient out of every ten who developed pneumonia also died.

These infections also impact patients and health care systems—and taxpayers—financially. The authors estimate that these infections required an additional 2.3 million in-hospital days and cost 8.1 billion dollars to treat. The authors also note that these figures may be underestimations, as many hospital acquired infections, especially incision site infections from surgery are not diagnosed until after discharge, and would not have been picked up by the data collection methods used by this group.

There is much to be done to stop these fully preventable types of tragic and costly outcomes. The issues of access to and the cost and of health care are in the front and center of American politics today. It seems clear that our health care providers share some of the responsibility for needlessly increasing costs—both human and financial. It is past time for them to accept that responsibility, and get on board in finding solutions to these burgeoning crises.