National Response, Localized Attention
Dr. Kavanagh of Health Watch USA says that more information about C. diff is needed, particularly publicly available numbers of infections at hospitals. Some states require those figures to be reported, but most don’t. And there is no current federal mandate on reporting of C. diff cases, although acute-care hospitals will be required to report C. diff infection rates starting in 2013.
“We really have scant data,” he says. “There is not a lot of reporting if you look at the nation on a whole. And I think that underscores one of the reasons why you need to have data for action. You need to have reporting of these organisms to the National Healthcare Safety Network so that the CDC can monitor and can make plans and can do effective interventions.
“You want to know where the areas of highest infection are,” he adds. “You want to know what interventions work and don’t work. If you don’t have a national coordinated reporting system, it really makes it difficult to address the problem. C. diff is going to be much harder to control than MRSA or other bacteria because it changes into a hard-to-kill dormant spore stage and then re-occurs at some point.”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed adding C. diff infections to the list of hospital-acquired conditions that will not be reimbursable. It is widely hoped that such a measure will go a long way toward stamping out the problem.
Dr. Kobaidze of Emory notes that C. diff is a dynamic problem, always adapting and posing new challenges. And hospitalists should be more involved in answering these questions through research. One recent question, she points out, is whether proton pump inhibitor use is related to the rise of C. diff.
Ultimately, though, controlling C. diff in hospitals might come down to what is done day to day inside the hospital. And hospitalists can play a big role.
Danielle Scheurer, MD, MSCR, SFHM, a hospitalist and medical director of quality at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, says that a full-time pharmacist on the hospital’s antimicrobial stewardship committee is always reviewing antibiotic prescriptions and is prepared to flag cases in which a broad-spectrum is used when one with a more narrow scope might be more appropriate.
The hospital has done its best, as part of its “renovation cycle,” to standardize the layouts of rooms “so that the second you open the door you know exactly where the alcohol gel is and where the soap and the sink is going to be.” The idea is to make compliance as “mindless” as possible. Such efforts can be hampered by structural limitations though, she says.
HM group leaders, she suggests, can play an important part simply by being good role models—gowning and gloving without complaint before entering high-risk rooms and reinforcing the message that such efforts have real effects on patient safety.
But she also acknowledges that “it always sounds easy….There has to be some level of redundancy built into the hospital system. This is more of a system thing than the individual hospitalist.”
One level of redundancy at MUSC that has been particularly effective, she says, are “secret shoppers” who keep an eye out for medical teams that might not be washing their hands as they go in and out of high-risk rooms. Each unit is responsible for their hand hygiene numbers—which include both self-reported figures and those obtained by the secret onlookers—and those numbers are made available to the hospital.