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Hospital-acquired infections present a risk to Michigan patients

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a major health care problem in Michigan and nationally which cause numerous patient injuries and deaths each year.

A hospital-acquired infection is broadly defined as an infection that a patient acquires during the course of receiving medical care in a health care setting such as a hospital. Earlier this year, CNN reported that about 4 percent of hospital patients acquire an infection during their hospitalization. According to CNN, the New England Journal of Medicine did a study which showed that, in 2011, patients acquired some 721,800 infections in American hospitals. Of those infected, 75,000 died. Hospital infection rates vary "significantly" among states. While some hospitals do an excellent job in minimizing HAIs, other hospitals have rates of infection several times the national average.

Allowing patients to develop an infection is one of the most common types of negligence occurring in hospitals that gives rise to a medical malpractice claim. According to the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research (ARHQ), the following four infections account for more than 80 percent of all HAIs: (1) surgical site infections; (2) catheter-associated urinary tract infections; (3) central line bloodstream infections; and (4) ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Of all infections, perhaps the most dreaded is the central line bloodstream infection. This infection is acquired from intravenous catheters used in intensive care units to deliver medication, nutrition and fluids. Consumer Reports observes that a central line infection is often fatal. For those who survive, recovery can mean weeks or months of debilitating treatments and harsh side effects.

The AHRQ finds that hospitals can take steps to prevent patient-to-patient transmission of bacteria through appropriate isolation procedures. Moreover, hospitals can and should make better efforts to ensure that their health care workers practice good hygiene by frequently washing their hands. Finally, hospitals should make sure that the staff is properly cleaning and sterilizing equipment.

Clorox Professional Products Company observes that the worst areas of a hospital for contracting an infection are intensive care units, emergency rooms and the operating room. ICUs are often the breeding ground for deadly pathogens such as staph bacteria and pseudomonas bacteria. ERs pose significant infection risks because the sheer number of sick patients treated there greatly increase the odds of patient-to-patient transmission of bacteria. The OR is another fertile breeding ground for pathogens due to frequent surgery turnover and the presence of contaminated tissue, blood and other bodily fluids.

A lack of transparency

This summer, MLive.com published the results of an investigation of the problem posed by a lack of transparency by Michigan health officials regarding HAIs. The author of the report states that Michigan is "one of the least forthcoming states in the nation" in providing details on HAI rates in hospitals. According to MLive.com, Michigan is the nation's second-most populous state that does not mandate hospital reports on HAIs. Nevertheless, about half of Michigan's hospitals supply the state with information on their HAI rates. Unfortunately, hospitals demand that this information "be kept anonymous." As a result, state health officials insist that the information "cannot be shared with the public." The conclusion of the report was that the public is being kept in the dark as to the seriousness of Michigan's HAI problem due to a combination of bureaucratic inertia and fierce opposition by hospital lobbyists to releasing pertinent HAI information.

Seeking compensation

Do not allow yourself to be the uncompensated victim of an injury-causing infection contracted in a hospital. If you have reason to believe that you or a loved one may have acquired an infection while a patient at a hospital, you should contact a Michigan attorney with experience in handling medical malpractice cases.