- One in 25 hospitalized patients gets an infection and 75,000 die from one, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention records. A recent Kaiser Health News analysis found that 695 hospitals had higher-than-expected infection rates for the six kinds of infections that the CDC tracks.
- In some states, the numbers are even worse: The Kaiser analysis showed that in 13 states and the District of Columbia, at least one out of four hospitals was rated below CDC benchmarks in at least one infection category.
- The problem is staff compliance, according to Dr. Don Goldmann, chief medical and science officer at the non-profit Institute for Healthcare Improvement. While high-profile infections like Ebola get a lot of attention, more pedestrian (but equally deadly) infections become "part of the background," says Goldmann.
"The percentage of time healthcare providers do all of the things they are supposed to do when caring for a patient with a contagious disease can be pretty low," according to Goldmann. A 2011 New England Journal of Medicine study backs him up: The study found that although hospitals have dropped the number of many infections over the last 10 years, staff compliance with recommendations still stands in the way of progress—recommendations like using maximal barrier procedures and hand washing.
Those very recommendations may be part of the problem, according to patient safety expert Dr. Kevin Kavanagh. Kavanagh points out that federal recommendations are not specific enough and an overabundance of information may be confusing to hospital staff.
"Right now, there are too many recommendations on how to handle infectious diseases. ...Too much leeway," Kavanagh said.