To combat the alarming 5 percent of all hospital stays that result in readmission due to conditions acquired in health care facilities, all staff and contractors should be well educated on how to minimize the spread of fatal infections. Health care-associated infections, which are widely seen as preventable and often caused by unsatisfactory hospital conditions or human error, are costing health care facilities more than $30 billion annually and are, more importantly, claiming 99,000 lives — that’s 271 lives each day. It is expected that one-third of hospitals open today will close by 2020 due to poor customer service and greater transparency of hospital performance.
Penalties for high rates of HAIs
Last year, more than 700 hospitals in the U.S. were penalized for high HAI rates. As an incentive for health care facilities with high HAI scores to reduce these rates, the Affordable Care Act will be penalizing facilities and cutting critical reimbursement revenue. In fact, hospitals are required by law to report their infection rates, and there is a current push for legislation mandating that health care facilities publish rates of infection for public record. Beyond monetary deductions, high rates of HAIs cause bad publicity that could be detrimental to facilities. Once HAI rates are published, patients will act as educated consumers and visit the hospital with the best ratings and lowest probability of acquiring an HAI. In turn, patients will be more selective when choosing a hospital. Hospitals are being scored on patient satisfaction and infection rates. These scores directly impact reimbursement to the tune of millions of dollars per facility.
Highly susceptible areas to avoid
Frequent HAIs can be attributed to equipment or instrument negligence by health care employees. Sites that generate high levels of dust from major demolition and construction activities can unknowingly transport bacteria throughout critical areas of the hospital. The areas of the hospital that are at the highest level of HAI risk include intensive care units, operating rooms, dialysis units, critical care and cancer nurseries, burn care units, trauma rooms and outpatient clinics.
Reducing HAIs in the facility
The CDC and CMS recommend that health care facilities provide education on infection control to all construction workers and staff. Without proper training on how infections can occur and spread in health care settings, contractors and other contractors are likely to make mistakes without realizing the potentially hazardous effect. Research presented by the CDC shows that when health care facility personnel are made aware of infection problems and take specific steps to prevent them, rates of certain HAIs can decrease by more than 70 percent. To reduce the impact of HAIs in health care systems and maximize patient health, facilities must strive to put the following three strategies into action:
- Implement facility-wide training programs
By implementing a training program that address issues health care staff members encounter on a daily basis, every member of the team will be educated to make a difference within every corner of the facility by improving patient care, maximizing safety and preventing the spread of infection.
- Hire educated and accountable contractors
Despite CDC recommendations, there is no law requiring infection prevention training for any construction worker or other contractor working in a health care facility. Every contractor employee that enters the hospital should complete a training course and learn about their role in HAI prevention. This includes HVAC, electrical, painting, plumbing, flooring, general contractor and subcontractor contractor employees. Without a facility requirement, contractors and construction staff will remain unaware and unconcerned with the facility’s infection rates.
- Encourage feedback from patients
In order to identify mishandled procedures or material that may be contributing to the spread of HAIs, patient satisfaction scores must be acknowledged by every member of the facility’s team. Patients should be given the opportunity to learn the rates of infection for the health care facility they choose and have basic knowledge as to how HAIs spread, in turn, empowering them to take more control of their stay in the facility and act as additional enforcers of infection prevention. When patients have the confidence to speak up to practitioners and remind them, for example, to wash their hands before taking their pulse, the risk of infection is lowered.
The only way to mitigate the risk of HAIs, which are now claiming more lives annually than AIDS, breast cancer and car accidents combined, is to promote awareness of how infections spread and create a facility-wide system of prevention.
About the author: Thom Wellington is the CEO and a stockholder in Infection Control University, a company that provides staff training programs and control processes for infectious microorganisms in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and other health care-related institutions.