The information presented at the conclusion of a four year study of infections in Veterans Affairs Hospitals is somewhat encouraging. One of the greatest risks to patients in any hospital is catching a new infection while receiving care. These infections are contracted at the hospital and are mostly unrelated to the patient’s original illness. These infections can range from the common cold to the very potent, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. (That’s MRSA to all of us who didn’t bother trying to sound that out.)
It was this MRSA epidemiology that was tracked. The study followed 153 VA hospitals. In conjunction with the study, these hospitals were making concerted efforts to reduce infection rates, not just passively watch themselves being studied. Some of the preventative procedures implemented include screening every incoming patient for infections of any kind by analyzing a nasal swab, and isolating any patients who test positive for MRSA. The hospital staff treating these MRSA positive patients took extra time to ensure they wore gloves, gowns, and any other protective clothing they felt necessary to prevent the bacteria from being transferred from the infected patient to an uninfected patient via the staff-member’s clothing or skin contact. Meticulous hand washing was also aggressively encouraged.
Over the four years of the study, these measures added up to a significant 62 percent drop in the rate of MRSA infections in intensive care units, and 45 percent drop in the rate of MRSA infections in non-ICU hospital wards.
Dr. Rajiv Jan, the study’s top author, and an official for the VHA says that he thinks that the “study has shown that it is possible to make this large-scale change, even in a large system.” Of course there is never only a good side to any successful story. Questions are being raised as to whether or not the extensive preventative measures used by the hospital employees is cost effective and not overly time consuming. Advocates of the measures used can cite the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, based in Atlanta. The CDC says that in 2002, infections acquired after admission to a hospital, which were not the original reason for admission, were responsible for 99,000 deaths. This number seems to warrant any necessary measures used to reduce unnecessary infections.
The VA hospitals that participated in the study had all maintained even rates of infections during the two years prior to the study. In the course of the study, approximately $160,000 to $300,000 was spent each year per hospital. The cost covered things such as a prevention coordinator and lab technician hired specifically for the prevention efforts, as well as the purchase of infection testing supplies, extra gloves, and extra gowns.
In the extremely large budget the VA handles each year, these numbers don’t seem that significant in comparison with saving the lives of more veterans who are being treated in the VA’s hospitals.
Photo thanks to HikingArtist.com under creative common license on Flickr.