N.J. hospitals reduce patient infections

Posted: July 10, 2013

New Jersey's hospitals have made progress in reducing the infections that patients develop in health-care facilities, and they soon will be feeling pressure to improve further.

A state report found that New Jersey hospitals' performance improved or held steady in four of the five types of health care-acquired infections compared with 2010.

Those hospitals could be under increased pressure to continue to improve in coming years, as a result of proposed federal regulations that would cut Medicare payments for providers where hospital-associated infections do not continue to decrease.

The report found that state hospitals did not do as well preventing infections from coronary-artery bypass grafts as they did in past years. But state officials pointed to strong performance in reducing central line-associated bloodstream infections. State hospitals had 27 percent fewer of those infections than expected based on national data.

The data on health-care-associated infections were one of three sections to the state report, which also found improvements in hospitals' performance in maintaining recommended processes for providing care as well as in other patient safety indicators.

"New Jersey hospitals have been moving in the right directions," state Health Commissioner Mary E. O'Dowd said of the report.

The annual report was based on the most recent data, which ran through 2011. A New Jersey Hospital Association report released in May, which focused on a separate but more recent set of data, found improvements in 2012.

The issue of health-care-associated infections, which include those acquired in hospitals and in other health-care facilities, is gaining increased attention from hospital officials, according to Suzanne Dalton, program manager for Healthcare Quality Strategies Inc.

"There's a change in the emphasis" toward reducing health care-associated infections, said Dalton, whose organization has a contract with the federal government aimed at helping providers improve health-care quality. "The dollars are shrinking, so while everybody used to say you had to do more with less, it's even greater at this point," she said.

Dalton said hospital executives have not always understood the importance of investing in reducing in-hospital infection - both directly through more testing of patients and indirectly through time spent by hospital staff to learn about safety procedures. But pressure from the federal government and insurers is starting to have an effect, she said.

"It's really hitting the pocketbook," Dalton said.

Dalton said the new emphasis on reducing infections would be just as important even if the federal government was not cutting payments. That's both because it will lead to healthier payments and because it can head off more expensive treatments later.

She noted that 1,000 people receiving a $50 test may be expensive for a hospital, but early detection of bacteria could prevent spending 10 times as much to readmit and treat a patient with a dangerous hospital-acquired infection.

This emphasis on reducing infections was reflected in a recent educational session for health-care-quality professionals, the hospital workers who are focused on reducing infections.

Kathy Duncan, a registered nurse and a faculty member with national nonprofit the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, noted that hospitals have seen improvements in reducing infections by taking steps such as having patients use a special soap for three days before a surgery and screening patients for the presence of dangerous bacteria before an operation.

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