"We have the knowledge to prevent infections. What has been lacking is the will. A recent survey from the patient-safety organization Leapfrog found that 87% of hospitals fail to consistently practice infection prevention measures. Insurance companies that sell liability coverage to hospitals could change that by offering lower premiums to hospitals that rigorously follow infection-prevention protocols.Physicians are responding to the article, maintaining that HAI rates must be reduced--while maintaining that not all HAI can be prevented:
To be sure, lawsuits are not the best way to improve patient care. Many verdicts are unjustified, and few truly injured patients find a lawyer to take their case. Still, the coming wave of lawsuits, as well as financial incentives from Medicare and insurers, will fight complacency about hospital hygiene."
"Regarding Betsy McCaughey's "Hospital Infections: Preventable and Unacceptable" (op-ed, Aug. 14): Strengthened measures to stimulate hospitals to prevent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) acquired in-house are certainly well-intentioned. The germs outsmarted everyone. What nobody predicted was the continuous evolution of new threats to patients and hospital personnel. I well recall our fervor, and idealism, in reporting prophylactic and control tactics to deal with sequential explosions of Legionnaires' disease, AIDS, intestinal infections as a side effect of antibiotic usage, drug-resistant tuberculosis, hepatitis B (followed by C), etc.
It is noble posturing for Medicare to proclaim it won't pay hospitals for treating infections acquired on the premises, but how does that policy stand up when the bacterium was heretofore unknown or not foreseen as a danger to patients or staff?
Leslie Norins, M.D., Ph.D.
If such a standard is imposed, rational surgeons will try very hard to avoid patients most at risk. Such flight to the good-risk patient already occurs in states with aggressive cardiac surgical-reporting requirements. In addition, surgeons and hospital administrators will work even harder to game the system in their reporting, and will become even more incautious in their use of prophylactic antibiotics, further promoting the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria.
Aggressive harassment from insurance companies, government agencies, hospital administrators and ignorant non-medical persons is doubtless a major factor in the early burnout and decline of cardiac surgery as a "hot" specialty; residency slots, coveted a generation ago, now go begging, and fewer than half which are taken are filled by American graduates.
Ronald M. Becker, M.D.
A deep and serious breast bone infection following open-heart operations currently occurs in approximately 1% of patients. Patients who are obese and diabetic are at a substantially higher risk for such an infection. The proportion of individuals in the U.S. who are obese or diabetic (or commonly both) is increasing in epidemic proportions, as is the number of such patients who require open-heart surgery or other invasive procedures to treat their heart conditions. Many patients who enter hospitals for treatment are already colonized by MRSA, further increasing their risk of infection. The combined threat of no reimbursement and a lawsuit will result in a refusal by physicians and hospitals to perform invasive procedures in many of these high-risk patients. This scenario will also play out for patients who require major orthopedic procedures, such as joint replacement. It is totally unrealistic to assume that these complex procedures can be performed with zero risk of infection.
Nicholas Kouchoukos, M.D.
Michael C. Murphy, M.D.
St. Louis, Mo.
Dr. Kouchoukos is a past president of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.
We live in a sea of bacteria. We have 10 times more bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract then we have cells in our bodies. We cannot eliminate all of these bacteria from our body before surgery. We can be clean, but not sterile. Many years ago, a study demonstrated that at least 50% of "hospital-acquired" infections arose from bacteria that patients carried into the hospital with them."
Gary L. Simon, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Division of Infectious Diseases
University Medical Center
It is likely that the Medicare guidelines will be adjusted after they are used for awhile. I can see both sides of the story here. Perhaps the truth is that both sides are right and HAI will be significantly reduced, lives will be saved, costs will be cut.