VHA Survey Shows Hospital Infection Control Staff Are Spread Too Thin; Opportunities for Hospital-Acquired Infections Occur, Costing Billions

IRVING, Texas -- VHA Inc., the health care cooperative that serves not-for-profit hospitals and health systems nationwide, has surveyed infection control specialists at member organizations and discovered several factors that may contribute to an increased likelihood of patients developing infections while in the hospital.

We found that in some hospitals infection control resources are stretched very thin, said John Hitt, MD, vice president of clinical improvement for VHA.  With an increased emphasis on hospital infections as part of a national emphasis on improving healthcare quality and the emergence of SARS, the potential for bioterrorism and concern about a flu epidemic, infection control is very important.

Industry experts say that hospital-acquired infections cost the nation $7 billion annually.  Devoting more staff to infection control activities in hospitals will reduce infections and have a significant clinical and financial benefit, given that healthcare-associated infections have a significant economic, social and clinical cost, Hitt said.

VHAs survey indicated:

  • Approximately one in three hospitals had less than the recommended ratio of infection control staff to patient beds
  • Four areas consumed 64 percent of the infection control staff members time: surveillance (26 percent), communications/management issues (14 percent), transmission prevention (12 percent) and education and training (13 percent)
  • Surveillance was mostly frequently conducted monthly for catheter-related bloodstream infections, catheter-related urinary tract infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia, and less frequently for antimicrobial use and resistance
  • The most common areas of focus for infection control teams were: surgical infection prevention, hand hygiene, catheter-related bloodstream infection and ventilator-associated pneumonia

    The two biggest obstacles to performing better were insufficient resources and lack of physician support.

    VHA works with member organizations to establish peer networks that create a context for members to share best practices around infection control.

We educate members about operational issues, such as the importance of using the right types of supplies for central venous catheter insertion, and structural issues, such as formation of a dedicated IV team, Hitt said.  Obviously, if hospitals can prevent infections in their patient populations, they avoid the complications that threaten patient recovery, discharge patients quicker and use fewer resources, both staff and supplies, in caring for the patients.

Hitt estimates that costs for a single patient developing a hospital-acquired infection costs the hospital and the U.S. healthcare system from several thousand dollars to more than $50,000 per case.  Hitt said that reducing hospital-acquired infections by even 20 percent would save the health care system approximately $1.4 billion annually.  By applying what weve learned, thats a very realistic goal, said Hitt.

Source: VHA Inc.