More patients infected from hospitals

Entrance to an emergency room.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: Here is a horror story: You go into the hospital, you die from an infection you picked up in the hospital. It's more common than was believed, according to a study released yesterday
in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Joining us to talk about this from our Health Desk in WHYY in Philadelphia, he's with us live, Gregory Warner, hi.

Gregory Warner: Hi Bill.

Radke: So what is this study? Am I ever going to want to step foot in a hospital again?

Warner: I think you should bring your own disinfectant if you do. This study looked at two of the most common hospital-acquired infections, sepsis and pneumonia. These are infections that can usually be prevented just by keeping everything sterile. And these two infections killed 48,000 people in 2006 alone. And that's horrible enough of course, but what I found interesting to Marketplace listeners is we've been talking about the cost of care. The cost of these two infections was $8.1 billion. So for example, a person who acquired pneumonia from a dirty ventilator tube, they stayed in the hospital an additional 14 days.

Radke: And then the hospital charges for that extra stay?

Warner: Well, right. And Medicare tried to change this. They said, you know, we're not going to reimburse hospitals on the idea that if someone spills something, you don't pay them to clean it up. But I spoke to the author of this report, Ramanan Laxminarayan. He says that these new Medicare rules would only have applied to the tiniest fraction of the cases. The reason is that hospital-acquired infections are hard to prove.

Ramanan Laxminarayan: And therefore hospitals argue that Medicare should not deny them payment, because it's entirely possible that they came in with the infection.

Radke: So is there a solution, Gregory?

Warner: I mean many people say a quick solution, really powerful, is for the government to encourage the use of checklists. And basically these are five-point checklist in hospitals to make sure that busy doctors and nurses are keeping everything sterile. Studies show that use of those alone could save thosands and thousands of lives.

Radke: Marketplace's Gregory Warner. Thank you.

Warner: My pleasure, Bill.

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