August 2nd, 2010
04:42 PM ET

New regulations may cut down infections in hospitals

In the United States, hospital-acquired infections alone afflict almost 2 million patients and kill approximately 100,000 people annually, more than diabetes or influenza and pneumonia. That's according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control.  Beginning next year, Americans will be able to check to see how their hospitals or medical facilities fare when it comes to preventing these types of infections.

Under the new hospital acquired infection reporting regulations adopted by the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), patients will be able to see how many hospital induced infections have been filed at their particular medical institution. According to the Consumer's Union Safe Patient project, public reporting of infection rates will help save lives and money by pressuring hospitals to improve preventive measures against hospital acquired infections.

"Patients shouldn't have to worry about getting sicker with an infection they catch in the hospital but every year nearly two million Americans do," says Lisa McGiffert, Director of the project. "Making infection rates public is a powerful motivator for hospitals to improve care and keep patients safe. This is an enormous victory for patient safety advocates who have worked tirelessly to hold hospitals accountable for failing to eliminate infections."

The new reporting requirements apply to hospitals that participate in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) "pay-for-reporting" program. According to the Consumer's Union, virtually all hospitals in the country participate because they earn a higher Medicare payment for doing so. During the first year using the regulations, Medicare payments will be based on how effectively hospitals are reporting infection rates. Beginning in October 2012, Medicare payments to hospitals will be tied to how well they protect patients from these infections and the quality of their patient care.

Starting in 2011, hospitals will be required to report to the CDC the number of people who develop bloodstream infections in their intensive care and neonatal intensive care units. The CDC estimates that patients develop more than 250,000 central line associated bloodstream infections each year while in the hospital.

Infection rate information for each hospital will then be posted later that year on the federal Hospital Compare web site.

The new regulations are part of HHS's five-year plan to reduce hospital acquired infections. The CDC estimates that the direct costs associated with hospital infections are as high as $45 billion each year.

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