I am writing this during the Trump Transition period; post-election and pre-inauguration. Fox Business News just announced that the Trump victory is causing a tremendous sell off of hospital stocks. The big players in the hospital industry are worried that when the Affordable Care Act is repealed, they will no longer be able to write off huge amounts of bad debt as they have been in the past. Of course this will hurt their bottom line.
But what if they spent as much time and energy eliminating the expenses caused by infections patients catch in their hospitals as they do about writing off bad debt? Imagine how significantly that attention would affect healthcare in this country.
We know how many lives could be saved – almost 100,0000 per year. That’s one out of every 25 patients – over 1 million patients – each year who become infected while in the hospital. How much of a cost burden does that represent? Forty billion dollars. That’s right $40,000,000.00. Annually. That also has to be affecting their bottom lines, not to mention the overall rising cost of providing healthcare services.
Yet in just one study sponsored by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 2100 infections were prevented, over 500 lives were saved. And $36M in excess costs was averted. Not insignificant!
And this was just one of several programs from AHRQ designed to test and improve patient safety while hospitalized. In addition to this study that targeted central line bloodstream infections AHRQ has programs to address urinary tract infections, MRSA, c diff, and surgical site infections. Here’s a short table showing the progress that was made in each of these program areas by 2014.
It makes sense – economically and medically – to clean up hospital facilities and hospital staff practices. These are not difficult of complicated programs. And they work! The challenge is getting all hospitals to try them and then, most importantly, to continue using them.
The AHRQ is a little-known and underappreciated agency of the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Their mission is to improve the quality, safety, effectiveness, and efficiency of health care.
What can you do?
- Well it couldn’t hurt to let your elected officials at the federal level know that we need this agency. The AHRQ budget and very existence is often on the chopping block since they don’t have a strong lobbying presence.
- When you are asked to take a patient survey about your experience in a hospital or clinic, be sure and let them know that their patient safety and hygiene practices are extremely important to you. Many of the survey questions ask about staff communication, food, atmosphere, lighting etc. But isn’t safety and cleanliness more important?
- Start talking to your neighbors, family and friends about how your local hospital should be improving their hospital-acquired infection rate. We all know that word-of-mouth really is effective. Put some pressure on.
Bottom line? If hospitals want to improve their bottom line, decrease their costs and the cost of healthcare in general, then they need to clean up their act.