Study Shows That 1 In 3 Healthcare-Associated Infections Go Unreported

In a recent study conducted by the California Public Health Authorities, it was concluded that approximately one-third of the infections that should have been reported under California law were in fact not reported. This study, which was conducted in 2011, reviewed one-hundred hospitals in the state.

Several states have passed laws requiring the mandatory reporting of infection statistics from hospitals and other healthcare facilities. I personally had the honor of testifying at the Rhode Island State House in 2009 on behalf of such a bill, which was eventually made law. Public reporting of healthcare-associated infection statistics from hospitals and other applicable healthcare facilities is important for several reasons, including the fact that such statistics provide the public with tangible evidence that can help public health officials and other professionals better gauge the problem at hand. Yet as this study proves, more progress in this area is still needed in order to curb the unnecessary deaths due to healthcare-associated infections.

The findings from this study also highlight the nationwide inability to identify the problem. According to the original report, if professionals can attain an accurate estimate of healthcare-associated infection statistics, they would be one step closer to curbing so many unnecessary deaths. Accurate data would also help promote a general awareness based on reliable numbers.

This study also analyzed hospital reporting practices for several healthcare-associated infections, including MRSA, C. diff and VRE. Such infections are becoming increasingly problematic due to antibiotic resistance. Central-line infections, which can be caused by a number of different organisms, were also included in this study. As the name explains, central-line catheters are inserted directly into a central vein, thus presenting a prime opportunity for pathogens to enter a very direct route of bodily processes. Sepsis, also known as blood poisoning, is a serious and often life-threatening problem related to central-lines that allow pathogens into the bloodstream.

Researchers examined the data for the various infections and found startling results: hospitals failed to report approximately one-fourth of C. diff infections, and over one-third of central-line infections. It was also concluded that hospitals missed around one-fourth of reportable cases of VRE, and ten percent of reportable C. diff cases. Researchers explained that a contributing factor in the underreporting of such infections was due to the complex procedures for identifying which infections were actually caused by hospital practices.

Moving forward, experts believe improvements will be made through the use of computer systems that will track data addressing specifically when, where, and how various infections appear in patients. Another beneficial aspect of this study includes the fact that researchers now have a better “definition” for each infection, in terms of numerical baseline statistics for each various infection. Several patient safety advocates argue that this study is also important because it demonstrates that while the costliness of reporting and other preventative measures is often used as an argument against the importance of HAI prevention, funds are being wasted due to such inaccurate reporting.

Laws requiring the mandatory reporting of healthcare-associated infection statistics have been proven to be an effective measure to prevent adverse harm while receiving healthcare, but as this study demonstrates, such reporting needs to be done correctly and accurately. Failing to do so can not only wastes time, effort, and money, but more importantly puts more lives at risk.

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