Study Links Half of Infection Deaths Directly to Hospital Care

According to a recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, sepsis and pneumonia acquired in hospitals may kill 48,000 people or more each year in the United States. Both infections can often be prevented with appropriate infection control practices in hospitals.

Ramanan Laxminarayan, of the study, reported that it is the first to link about half of all infection deaths directly to infections acquired in the course of care in hospitals. As opposed to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates, the study calculates deaths caused by, not merely associated with, hospital-acquired infections. Additionally, the CDC figures are based on voluntary hospital reporting, while the new study results are based on data regarding patient diagnoses, hospital treatment and pre-admission exposure to infections. The researchers analyzed 69 million discharge records from hospitals in 40 states between 1998 and 2006.

The study estimates that hospital-acquired sepsis and pneumonia added $8.1 billion to health care costs in 2006 alone. Medicare and many state Medicaid programs have announced decisions to reduce or eliminate payment for re-hospitalization or care made necessary by preventable complications such as infections. However, even this financial incentive may be insufficient to spur better infection control for hospitals as administrators weigh the immediate costs of implementing infection prevention measures. Private insurers may also increasingly amend their policies to exclude coverage for avoidable events.

Proactive patients may want to inquire about hospital checklists, policies and statistics related to hospital-acquired infections.