By The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
Patients usually don't give a second thought to visiting a health-care facility -- a doctor's office, outpatient surgical center, hospital, nursing home or health clinic. They go there expecting treatment that would improve their health, not impair it.
Yet according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, health care associated infections, acquired during the course of treatment for other conditions, rank among the top 10 causes of death in the country. Hospitals alone account for 1.7 million such infections a year, with 99,000 related deaths.
The problem is widespread. From dental work and laser eye surgery to joint operations, more surgical procedures are moving from hospitals to outpatient centers. And with the migration, the potential for incidental infections at these care clinics is rising, too. A CDC study of same-day surgical centers published this week underscores again how critical it is to observe basic guidelines for infection control and patient safety.
Investigators who observed procedures and practices at 68 surgical clinics in three states cited instances where medical workers did not follow simple standards for infection control. The violations included improper hand-washing, mishandling medications, reusing syringes and failing to clean equipment properly. Sixty-seven percent of the clinics were cited for at least one lapse.
Surgical clinics are a growing segment of the health-care business, providing treatment for an estimated 6 million patients a year, a percentage of whom are likely to contract a site-acquired infection.
A CDC study in 2009 pegged the direct medical cost of hospital-acquired infections between $28 billion and $45 billion a year. Add clinic-acquired infections to that cost, and it is little surprise the national health-care bill keeps rising.
For good reason, the pressure has mounted on hospitals to improve patient safety. Increasingly, federal and state governments are using incentives and penalties (including publicly accessible databases that report infection rates) to force providers to follow rigorously the standards of infection control. Outpatient clinics deserve similar scrutiny.