Healthcare News & Insights

Infections declining in hospitals, but improvement is still needed

Good news: Facilities continue to make excellent strides with preventing hospital-acquired infections. Though there’s still a ways to go, new data shows the work hospitals have done over the past few years to improve patient safety has started to pay off. 

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine details the success of the Emerging Infections Program, which involves a collaborative effort between health departments in 10 states to cut the rates of healthcare-associated infections, such as pneumonia and surgical-site infections.

Hospitals in each of the 10 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Tennessee) were asked to provide information about patients who they treated for any sort of hospital-acquired infection. Data was examined for patients admitted in 2011 and 2015 to compare how infections fared over time.

The numbers showed that patients who were admitted to these hospitals in 2015 were generally 16% less likely to contract a healthcare-associated infection than those who visited the hospital in 2011. Only 3.2% of hospitalized patients ended up with a hospital-acquired infection in 2015.

Infection rates were lower across the board for several specific infections. Some of the biggest reductions were seen with surgical-site infections and urinary-tract infections. This is likely due to several preventive methods hospitals have adopted to cut the rates of these illnesses, such as reducing catheter use and implementing preoperative protocols designed to cut down on contamination.

Not all healthcare-acquired infections are decreasing, however. Infection rates didn’t budge for other serious infections, including C. diff and pneumonia. Mortality rates for hospitalized patients who contracted an infection also didn’t decline. So hospitals must continue to strive for improvement in these areas.

Stethoscopes & infection risk

To cut down on the likelihood  patients will develop life-threatening infections during their hospital stays, it’s important to make sure your disinfection efforts focus on all potential sources of contamination. One piece of equipment that could harbor germs may be surprising.

According to a new study from the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, stethoscopes worn by providers and nurses may contain several types of bacteria – including germs that can cause healthcare-associated infections in patients.

Researchers tested several types of stethoscopes in the intensive care unit of one hospital: multiuse stethoscopes carried by clinical staff, individual-use stethoscopes in patient rooms and clean, unused individual-use stethoscopes.

The multiuse stethoscopes were the most contaminated with bacteria that was likely to cause hospital-acquired infections. Specifically, Staphylococcus was found on each stethoscope tested.

While common cleaning techniques reduced the level of contamination found on clinicians’ stethoscopes, they were never as clean as unused stethoscopes. In most cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that hospitals sterilize stethoscopes using an EPA-registered low- or intermediate-level disinfectant. Anything less could promote the spread of germs in a facility.

With that in mind, it may be smart to review your hospital’s protocol for cleaning stethoscopes and other high-touch equipment and surfaces exposed to patients during a hospital stay. Along with infection-prevention tactics such as improved hand hygiene, using the best cleaning techniques can help keep bacteria at bay.

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