AHRQ Awards $34 Million to Expand Fight Against HAIs

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) announces that it has awarded $34 million in fiscal year 2011 for grants and contracts to hospitals, academic medical institutions and healthcare research organizations to expand the fight against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

HAIs, which are bacterial, viral and fungal infections that patients get during the course of receiving medical care, affect patients in all healthcare settings including, at any one point in time, 1 in 20 patients in hospitals. These projects and others funded by the agency help to attain the goals of HHS' Partnership for Patients initiative, a nationwide public-private partnership that aims to make care safer for patients and reduce unnecessary return visits to the hospital while making care less costly.

"Infections are not an inevitable consequence of healthcare; they are preventable," says AHRQ director Carolyn Clancy, MD.  "With this investment, we are building on proven strategies to give doctors and healthcare teams the help they need to ensure that patients are safe from infections."

These awards include projects to develop, test and spread the use of new modules of the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP), a proven method to prevent and reduce HAIs. Since 2008, AHRQ has been promoting the nationwide adoption of CUSP to reduce central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs).  The new modules target three additional infections that are also areas of focus for the Partnership for Patients:

- Catheter-associated urinary tract infections, the most common HAI, which can occur in patients with urinary catheters.
- Surgical site infections, a complication of surgery that can occur at the incision site or deeper within the body.
- Ventilator-associated pneumonia, which can occur in patients who require mechanically assisted breathing and, as a result, have a higher risk of developing health care-associated pneumonia. This new module will be pilot tested in two states with funding from the HHS Office of Healthcare Quality.
CUSP is a multipronged program that promotes a culture of patient safety, improved communication and teamwork among unit staff members, and the use of tools, including checklists, to support implementation of evidence-based HAI prevention practices, such as handwashing and removing unnecessary catheters, that are based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A recent report from the ongoing AHRQ-funded project that is implementing CUSP to reduce CLABSI found that these infections were reduced by an average of 33 percent.  Read the report at: http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/clabsiupdate/. AHRQ is continuing to fund this project to reduce CLABSI, which is also an area of focus for the Partnership for Patients. For more information on CUSP, go to http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/cusp.htm.

Other newly funded projects include research on ways of reducing infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacterium that is resistant to certain antibiotics, and Clostridium difficile, an organism that often affects patients on prolonged antibiotic treatment; the use of health care facility design to reduce HAIs; and alignment of work system factors to maximize and sustain successful HAI reduction efforts. A novel 36-month project will synthesize the results of AHRQ-funded HAI projects in fiscal years 2007-2010. The goals of the project are to identify and promote the application of effective HAI prevention approaches and to identify gaps in the HAI science base that can be filled with additional research. AHRQ is also continuing to fund research on HAIs in long-term care, dialysis facilities and ambulatory care.  For a complete list of the projects funded in fiscal year 2011 go to: http://www.ahrq.gov/qual/haify11.htm.           

AHRQ has funded research to fight HAIs since 2003 and continues to track data on infections through its Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP).  New HCUP data on C. difficile infections indicate that those infections, which in recent years had been increasing, appear to be leveling off in most areas of the country. For details, go to: http://www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports.jsp

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