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Study shows little progress on reducing hospital infections

Finds increase in three illnesses

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
Associated Press / April 14, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The nation’s hospitals are failing to protect patients from potentially fatal infections despite years of prevention campaigns, the government said yesterday.

The Health and Human Services Department’s 2009 quality report to Congress found “very little progress’’ on eliminating hospital-acquired infections and called for “urgent attention’’ to address the shortcomings.

Of five major types of serious hospital-related infections, rates of illnesses increased for three, one showed no progress, and one showed a decline. As many as 98,000 people a year die from medical errors, and preventable infections are a significant part of the problem.

Such medical missteps will have consequences under President Obama’s new health care law. Starting in a few years, Medicare payments to hospitals will be reduced for preventable re-admissions and for certain infections that can usually be prevented with good nursing care.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the report “a pretty clear diagnosis of some of the gaps and shortcomings in our nation’s health care system.’’

The quality report was accompanied by a second study that found continuing shortfalls in quality of care for minorities and low-income people.

It has been more than 10 years since the Institute of Medicine launched a crusade to raise awareness about medical errors and encourage providers to systematically reduce them.

“We know that focused attention to eliminating health care-acquired infections can reduce them dramatically,’’ said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, head of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which conducted the studies. The statistics for 2007 were the latest available.

According to the report:

■ Bloodstream infections following surgery rose 8 percent.

■ Urinary tract infections from catheter use following surgery increased by 3.6 percent.

■Rates of pneumonia following surgery fell by 12 percent.

The hospital industry said it was disappointed by the findings, but hopes the next round of studies will show improvement. Some recent efforts to reduce infections may not be reflected in the data.

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