The Department of Health collected information from Pennsylvania's hospitals for six months in 2008, extrapolated the likely rate of occurrence for a 12-month period, then compared those figures to data gathered for 2009. It found that 25,914 patients got infections while hospitalized in 2009, which the department report estimated as 12.5 percent fewer than a year earlier. That's a significant drop, especially if it holds up to closer analysis.
As has been true in earlier studies, hospitals in southwestern Pennsylvania did a better job overall than those in other regions of the state, a fact attributed to a joint project that included 33 hospitals from 2001 to 2005, aimed at reducing central line bloodstream infections.
In the health department's study, only three -- Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, UPMC Mercy and Select Specialty Hospital Pittsburgh -- were among the 27 facilities statewide that did worse than expected in controlling such infections, which are among the most dangerous. Allegheny General Hospital was the only local facility among 32 statewide that did not do as well as expected in preventing urinary tract infections due to the use of catheters.
Going forward, the state will use federal stimulus funds to conduct audits at select hospitals, targeting those with very high rates of infection and those with very low rates. That should ensure that the hospitals all are using the same criteria for reporting and that the data provide an apples-to-apples comparison. In the future, the state should have access to 12 months of information for each year so it won't have to project the annual infection rates as it did for 2008.
Valid information about how well hospitals control infection within their walls is vital for consumers as they make decisions about where they seek medical care. In addition to reducing the rates of illness and death, preventing hospital-acquired infection is key in helping to tamp down the spiraling cost of medical treatment. The report says that in Pennsylvania alone, such infections add more than $3 billion a year to the cost of care.
People enter hospitals hoping for healing. They should not get sicker, or die, due to a preventable infection during their stays.