Hospital-Acquired Infections Take Nearly 50,000 American Lives Every Year

July 5, 2013

day-226-hospital-bed_l.jpgMedical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a recent article by Reuters which found that pneumonia and blood-borne infections contracted in hospitals killed an estimated 48,000 patients in 2006 alone. Sepsis, a blood infection often caused by medical negligence, killed about 20% of patients who developed it.

The study Reuters reported on was conducted by the Center for Disease, Dynamics, Economics, and Policy and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers studied hospital discharge records from nearly 70 million patients at 40 different hospitals throughout the country. Specifically, researchers examined data spanning 1998 to 2006 for two diagnoses: hospital-acquired sepsis and pneumonia.

Data showed that about 2.3 million patients required extended stays at hospitals after they developed an illness from the hospital itself - costing more than $8 billion to compensate for the longer stay. Patients who contracted pneumonia while at hospitals, for example, had to stay an average of two additional weeks at the facility, at the rate of over $46,000 per patient. About 11% of patients died from the sudden pneumonia diagnosis.

Additionally, about one-fifth (just under 20%) of patients passed away after contracting sepsis from surgery. Those who did not die had to stay in the hospital for an extra 11 days on average, costing nearly $33,000 per patient.

One researcher from the University of Chicago who worked on the study stated that some of these patients were relatively healthy before they checked into the hospital, and that their surgeries were routine and low-risk. In these patients, sepsis was developed due to lapses in infection control.

Beyond sepsis and pneumonia, CBS recently reported that one in every 20 patients contract some kind of infection from their hospital care, creating an extra $25 billion in health care costs. It is entirely possible, however, to prevent these infections, which is why many can be considered cases of medical negligence, posing potential for lawsuits against doctors or hospitals.

In fact, the CDC recently named the elimination of hospital-acquired infections one of its "Top Ten Winnable Battles." One expert asserted that the hospital-acquired infections are usually driven by bacteria, and since bacteria are living organisms, they have been able to evolve for generations, and in some cases, become immune to antibiotics and disinfectants.

Infections can also, unfortunately, be attributed to nurse burnout caused by chronic understaffing. Nurses in hospitals with tight or depleting budgets are often assigned heavier than normal loads of patients, so they more easily get tired, worn down, and may cut corners. They may forget to change dressings (potentially causing sepsis), empty drainage bags, or fail to pay attention to vigilant hand-washing or proper handling of contaminated materials.

A team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently analyzed nurses' job-related attitudes. They then compared certain hospitals' percentage burnout nurses to its rates of specific hospital-acquired infections. Result showed that every 10% increase in the number of high-burnout nurses was associated with one to two additional infections per 1,000 patients. Researchers then estimated that if Pennsylvania could reduce nurse burnout rates by about 20%, the state's hospitals would prevent more than 4,000 infections and save more than $40 million every year.

Additionally, Columbia University School of Nursing recently received a $1.2 million grant to research and improve infection prevention in pediatric long-term care facilities. The program includes a study that will assess the hand hygiene at three New York facilities caring for children with complex health issues.

Medical malpractice lawyers at Pintas & Mullins will continue to report on significant studies, data, and public health announcements concerning hospital-acquired infections. If you or a loved one was seriously injured as a result of medical negligence, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to significant compensation for your undue suffering.