“We were pleasantly surprised with the reductions,” Dr. Salgado says. “We consistently saw a more than 50% reduction in HAIs in all study sites.”
Archelle Georgiou, MD, president of Georgiou Consulting LLC in Minneapolis and an advisor to the Copper Development Association, is an advocate for making the health-care system simpler and safer for consumers. She says copper is a “game-changer.”
“It’s a brand-new way of thinking about decreasing the number of HAIs,” she says.
In light of the study’s encouraging findings, hospitalist and infectious-disease specialist James Pile, MD, FACP, SFHM, vice chair of the Department of Hospital Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, says that although study results appear valid, “it didn’t provide any final answers.”
“It would be premature for a hospital to install copper based on this study,” he says, adding he didn’t find the study results surprising, because copper is known to have antimicrobial properties.
But, Dr. Pile says, the study did provide proof of concept and opens the door for larger, more definitive studies that will show if installing copper in hospital rooms is worthwhile.
“If future studies confirm earlier results, then hospitals should seriously consider copper installations,” he says.
Barriers to Implementation
Despite the promising outlook for copper in dramatically reducing HAIs, implantation of copper components is off to a slow start.
Negotiations with the Environmental Protection Agency, the federal agency with jurisdiction over public-health claims for antimicrobial surfaces, started in 2004. Testing started in 2005. Although federal registration was completed in February 2008, it wasn’t until late 2011 that all regulatory issues were resolved for manufacturers.
“The regulatory process created delays in educating hospitals and the public about copper’s effectiveness in killing certain bacteria,” Dr. Georgiou explains. “As a result, American manufacturers with the ability to make copper components weren’t developing products because they couldn’t sell them.”
Now that the regulatory issues have been resolved, U.S. manufacturers are beginning to make copper components. The first wave of commercial products came on the market in late 2011. Meanwhile, European countries have not been delayed and are well ahead of U.S. hospitals in implementing copper components.
Presently, nine U.S. hospitals have installed some form of copper components, including door hardware, cabinet pulls, sinks, stretchers, and IV poles, Michels reports.
Despite these advances, hospitals may be slow to incorporate copper components due to a variety of reasons:
Cost. Dr. Pile believes that cost will be the major barrier. “Installing copper surfaces won’t be cheap,” he says. “But, then again, HAIs are very costly. I think it will be more difficult to justify their existence if they can be prevented. If copper is effective in preventing HAIs, it would prove to be cost-effective over time.”
Dr. Salgado concurs. “A study needs to be done on the cost-effectiveness of copper surfaces,” she says. “Health economists estimate that if copper surfaces were incorporated into ICUs, after three to six months, those surfaces would pay for themselves. That is not a long time period. Hospitals need to understand that there will be upfront costs but that they will realize benefits downstream.”
The Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has reported that one infection adds $43,000 in patient costs.4 A typical U.S. hospital room contains $100,000 worth of goods and equipment.
“When you do the math using the amount of copper in our study, the cost would be between $1 and $10 per patient,” Dr. Schmidt says. “It’s also important to note that an infection adds 19 days to a patient’s hospital stay.”
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