It should come as no surprise to most hospitalists that healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are among the leading causes of death in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that from 5% to 10% of hospitalized patients develops an HAI, which leads to nearly 100,000 deaths every year.
The big four infection categories are catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs), ventilator-associated pneumonia (as well as non-ventilator-associated hospital-acquired pneumonia), central-line-associated bloodstream infections, and surgical-site infections. In addition, Clostridium difficile (C-diff) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections add to the burden.
While the toll on patients is substantial, the financial burden is equally staggering. It is estimated that HAIs lead to $28 billion to $33 billion in excess healthcare costs each year. So what does this have to do with hospitalists? Everything.
National Efforts to Curb HAIs
The morbidity, mortality, and financial consequences of HAIs have not been lost on patients, payors, and policymakers; each group is demanding action. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is coordinating a national effort addressing HAIs; it aims to bring together many of HHS’ agencies (CDC, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, etc.) and engage patients, payors, and care providers. As a show of support for these efforts, Congress provided HHS with more than $200 million to target HAIs. After much work, HHS released its action plan to prevent HAIs in January.
SHM was one of the organizations asked to comment on the prevention plan. We did.
- We supported HHS’ focus on process measures (rather than outcomes), which recognizes the inevitability of some HAIs;
- We asked to be more involved in the process of developing and implementing the action plan; and
- We specifically asked for hospitalist representation on the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee (HICPAC), which develops the guidelines and prioritizes national efforts targeting HAI prevention.
Wish granted. In June, I was invited to HHS’ offices in Washington, D.C., along with key stakeholders to hear details of the final plan of action and discuss implementation. The plan (www.hhs.gov/ophs/initiatives/hai/infection.html) addresses key HAIs, establishes baseline rates, and proposes five-year national targets for reductions in infections.
The National Quality Foundation (NQF) has endorsed most of the metrics. The targeted reductions seem reasonable, and they are mostly in line with current evidence on best practices.
Of note, HHS dropped ventilator-associated pneumonia as a target area because of feedback from stakeholders (e.g., SHM) who argued that current definitions of the condition were inadequate to allow accurate measurement of targeted performance improvement efforts. Also of note, SHM was offered a HICPAC seat, which will enhance our ability to further impact the development and evaluation of current and future metrics.
I was invited back to Washington in July to meet with Don Wright, MD, MPH, FAACP, HHS’ principal deputy assistant secretary for health. It’s obvious to me that HHS realizes that any effective campaign to reduce HAI incidence will require engaging hospitalists, and, interestingly, HHS has even heard from other professional societies that hospitalists are a key group to target if you plan to implement hospitalwide interventions that span the ED, hospital wards, ICUs, surgical patients, pediatrics, or any other nook or cranny in the hospital. Hospitalists and SHM appear to be at ground zero in the national effort to combat HAIs.