VHA Survey Shows Hospital Infection Control Staff Are Spread Too Thin; Opportunities for Hospital-Acquired Infections Occur, Costing Billions

Dec 08, 2004, 00:00 ET from VHA Inc.

    IRVING, Texas, Dec. 8 /PRNewswire/ -- VHA Inc., the health care
 cooperative that serves not-for-profit hospitals and health systems
 nationwide, has surveyed infection control specialists at member organizations
 and discovered several factors that may contribute to an increased likelihood
 of patients developing infections while in the hospital.
     "We found that in some hospitals infection control resources are stretched
 very thin," said John Hitt, M.D., vice president of clinical improvement for
 VHA.  "With an increased emphasis on hospital infections as part of a national
 emphasis on improving health care quality and the emergence of SARS, the
 potential for bioterrorism and concern about a flu epidemic, infection control
 is very important."
     Industry experts say that hospital-acquired infections cost the nation
 $7 billion annually.  "Devoting more staff to infection control activities in
 hospitals will reduce infections and have a significant clinical and financial
 benefit, given that health care-associated infections have a significant
 economic, social and clinical cost," Hitt said.
      VHA's survey indicated:
      -- Approximately one in three hospitals had less than the recommended
         ratio of infection control staff to patient beds
      -- Four areas consumed 64 percent of the infection control staff members'
         time: surveillance (26 percent), communications/management issues
         (14 percent), transmission prevention (12 percent) and education and
         training (13 percent)
      -- Surveillance was mostly frequently conducted monthly for catheter-
         related bloodstream infections, catheter-related urinary tract
         infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia, and less frequently
         for antimicrobial use and resistance
      -- The most common areas of focus for infection control teams were:
         surgical infection prevention, hand hygiene, catheter-related
         bloodstream infection and ventilator-associated pneumonia
      -- The two biggest obstacles to performing better were insufficient
         resources and lack of physician support.
     VHA works with member organizations to establish peer networks that create
 a context for members to share best practices around infection control.
     "We educate members about operational issues, such as the importance of
 using the right types of supplies for central venous catheter insertion, and
 structural issues, such as formation of a dedicated IV team," Hitt said.
 "Obviously, if hospitals can prevent infections in their patient populations,
 they avoid the complications that threaten patient recovery, discharge
 patients quicker and use fewer resources, both staff and supplies, in caring
 for the patients."
     Hitt estimates that costs for a single patient developing a hospital-
 acquired infection costs the hospital and the U.S. health care system from
 several thousand dollars to more than $50,000 per case.  Hitt said that
 reducing hospital-acquired infections by even 20 percent would save the health
 care system approximately $1.4 billion annually.  "By applying what we've
 learned, that's a very realistic goal," said Hitt.
     About VHA
     VHA Inc. is a national cooperative of leading not-for-profit health care
 organizations that work together to improve the health of the communities they
 serve.  Through the cooperative, members benefit from resources to help them
 identify, integrate and implement best practices to improve clinical,
 operational and financial performance.  As a cooperative, VHA distributes
 income annually to members based on their participation.  Based in Irving,
 Texas, with 18 offices across the U.S., VHA was named one of the "100 Best
 Companies to Work For" by Fortune in January 2004, for the fifth year in a
 row.  For more information, go to http://www.vha.com .
      Lynn Gentry