According to recent statistics provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), nearly two million people each year contract what are known as "healthcare-associated infections." These so-called "HAIs" are acquired during the process of receiving medical treatment or undergoing surgical intervention.
Of those affected by these infections, nearly 100,000 die, falling victim to what the HHS has deemed one of "the leading causes of preventable death in the United States." In addition, they are a huge drain on the financial stability of the healthcare system as a whole, causing an average of $30 billion in otherwise unnecessary costs annually.
Part of the Cure, or Part of the Disease?
Every year, many millions of Americans visit hospitals, same-day surgery centers, outpatient care clinics or rehabilitation facilities with the reasonable expectation that their condition will improve with treatment. Tragically, this is not always the case, as evidenced by the above statistics.
Realizing the extreme physical and financial tolls that HAIs exact, the Institute of Medicine began working to slow the spread of these infections more than a decade ago. The Department of Health and Human Services recently followed suit, creating the HHS Steering Committee for the Prevention of Healthcare-Associated Infections in 2008. Sadly, neither organization's guidance has had any measurable degree of positive impact - in fact, the numbers of patients suffering from preventable, post-surgical, bloodstream and urinary/catheter-related infections has actually increased, as has the transmission of common surgical-site and MRSA infections.
What Else Can Be Done?
Since additional guidelines for care and informational outreach programs about the spread of disease seem to have had little effect on the overriding issue of HAIs, the latest round of government health care reform has included provisions aimed at hitting providers right where it will hurt the most - in the pocketbook. Unless treatment centers can show they are actively trying to decrease and/or eliminate the transmission of HAIs, they may risk losing much-needed Medicare or Medicaid payments.
Hopefully, this will be the wake-up call needed to treat these infections with the seriousness that they deserve. If, however, you or a loved one has been afflicted with an HAI (or you have tragically lost someone you care about due to one), the advice of an attorney in your area who is skilled in addressing these types of claims can be invaluable.