We don’t think twice about going to the hospital when we become seriously ill or suffer an injury. But what happens when we actually get sicker because of our hospital visit?
A hospital-acquired infection can lead to permanent injury or severe complications. And in the most extreme situations, it can even lead to death, providing a basis for a malpractice claim against the hospital and its medical staff.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2011 there were more than 722,000 health-care associated infections in hospitals. These infections ranged from pneumonia to urinary tract infections to infections at the site of surgeries.
In fact, health-care related infections happen in at least one in every 25 hospital patients, the CDC reports.
And when a patient contracts an infection during a hospital stay, it often means more testing and medical procedures, and more powerful medications to fight the bacteria or virus. In turn, this increases the cost and length of the patient’s hospital stay, not to mention causing the patient additional discomfort.
Contaminated Devices and Medications
The two primary reasons why infections spread so easily to hospital patients is contaminated medical devices and medications, particularly intravenous medications (IVs) and those given with a syringe.
In order to keep infections at low levels, doctors and nurses must maintain sterile environments while moving from one patient to the next. But contamination can occur anywhere at any time, so keeping infections from spreading inside a hospital can be both expensive and difficult.
The contamination problem is exacerbated by two factors:
- Doctors and nurses are unable to directly oversee every medical device that is used and every medication that is given to a patient.
- It is virtually impossible to detect when and where a medical device or IV line has been contaminated.
Hospitals can, however, make sure doctors and nurses take certain basic steps to help prevent the spread of infections:
- Use new, sterile equipment on each patient.
- Properly dispose of old equipment.
- Use proper techniques for each procedure that is performed.
Hospitals also need to make sure their cleaning staff disinfects all surfaces, including those the patient touches and those that come in contact with doctors and nurses, medications, and equipment.
When it comes to keeping hospital infections at bay, there is no room for hospitals to make mistakes — especially when patients’ health has already been compromised because of their original illness or injury.