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Hospital Infections: Read Between CDC Lines For The Real Story

Hospital Infections: Read Between CDC Lines For The Real Story

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A new CDC report offers state-by-state stats on hospital infections – but you have to read between the lines for the real story.  

On Thursday, the CDC released its first-ever state-level data on infections of patients in hospitals (aka "healthcare-acquired infections", or HAIs). A great report for reporters to scan for stories in their states, right? Well, yes and no.

The report, which is covered here by MedPage Today's Todd Neale and here by WebMD Health News' Daniel J. DeNoon, does show that nationally, the rate of one kind of hospital infection  is down by about 18 percent compared to the three previous years.

But drill down to the state level and you'll see another story entirely: why are so few hospitals reporting this kind of data? Unlike some others who covered this story, DeNoon helpfully examines the report's limitations:

Today's CDC report includes data from 17 states on just one kind of hospital-acquired infection: central-line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs). Because central-line catheters are usually placed in severely ill patients, this single category accounts for about a third of deaths from hospital-acquired infections.

But the data yield little information:

    * Because of differences in data collection and data verification, it's impossible to compare states.

    * There's no information on specific hospitals.

    * It's the first time the data have been reported, making it hard to see whether a state's hospitals are doing better or worse.

What are hospitals in your community doing to track and prevent infections? If reporting infections is voluntary in your state, do your local hospitals report? If they don't, why?

This is a subject is well worth your time, and here's why: hospital-acquired infections kill an estimated 99,000 Americans each year and cost about $30 billion in added health care costs. About one-third of those infections are the central-line-associated bloodstream infections examined in the CDC report.

While 17 states now require hospitals to report infection data to the National Healthcare Safety Network, reporting is voluntary for hospitals elsewhere. Under the health reform legislation passed earlier this year, hospitals nationwide will have to report more infection data to federal authorities. And don't forget about MRSA, an increasingly difficult-to-treat staph infection that once was restricted to hospitals but now can be found in community settings like schools and gyms.

Traditionally, primarily academic medical centers and large health care systems have voluntarily reported data to the National Healthcare Safety Network, said Superbug author Maryn McKenna, who's written extensively on MRSA and other infectious disease topics.  

"To me, the real background story is that even if (the report) is an advance, it's an advance only because the previous state of the data is so poor," McKenna said.

McKenna recommends Consumer Reports' Safe Patient Project as a great starting point for tracking hospital infections in your community. Be sure to check out Consumer Reports' excellent overview of the current state of hospital infection data reporting, too.  

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