Too many patients get sick in the very places that are supposed to heal them. The facts are frightening: As many as one in 10 patients hospitalized in the U.S. will come down with an infection—often due to the very care that is supposed to be restoring health. These infections afflict nearly two million patients a year, cause close to 100,000 deaths and cost up to $6.5 billion.But they are not inevitable.
Here are 10 ways to prevent infection in health-care settings—a list gleaned from conversations with doctors, nurses, administrators, the nonprofit Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. We've divided the list into two parts: first, promising new technologies, and second, a look at back-to-basics techniques that many hospitals have reinvigorated, with great success.
1. UNDERCOVER AGENTS
Some of the most vicious vectors of infection can survive for weeks on medical equipment and in patient rooms. The culprits include the drug-resistant MRSA bacteria, which can cause staph infections, and the nasty Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, which causes severe diarrhea. Hospitals, of course, have rigorous protocols for cleaning. But how well are they doing? To find out, Philip Carling, an epidemiologist at Caritas Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Mass., went undercover. He developed an invisible solution with fluorescent markers and sprayed it all over patient rooms in dozens of hospitals. Then he let cleaning crews do their thing. Afterward, he went over each room with a black light. Any spot the crews missed would glow fluorescent. Turned out they missed a lot.
Toilets sparkled. But bathroom light switches and door knobs did not. Telephones, nurse-call buttons and grab rails were all routinely contaminated. Showing the results to cleaning crews—and training them to do better—helped a great deal, boosting compliance with...