Six important things to know about preventing hospital infections

Infection control professional offers patient tips to guard against hospital infections

April 2, 2007 — /PRNewswire/ — KANSAS CITY, KS — Hospital infections are among the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There are countless stories about patients who go into hospitals with minor conditions and leave under much graver circumstances. As a patient, knowing the right questions to ask about how hospitals prevent infections is extremely important.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control published new infection-control guidelines last October outlining strategies to prevent the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections in health-care settings that affect about 2 million people every year.

According to Nina Shik, RN, an infection-control professional at the University of Kansas Hospital in Kansas City, KS, “Those guidelines are critical since the proportion of bacteria resistant to antibiotics has risen sharply the past three years.” By 2004, nationally, 63 percent of the bacteria that cause “staph” infections had become resistant to antibiotics commonly used to kill them; in 1972, only two percent of these types of bacteria were drug-resistant.

Here are six suggestions Shik encourages patients to follow to determine if a hospital is doing enough to ensure patient safety:

  1. Talk to your physician: Ask your doctor or surgeon about possible risks of infection associated with a particular procedure or test and what specific steps will be taken to reduce the risks of infection.
  2. Adopt a good reporter’s tactics: Watch — before and after an examination, do doctors wash their hands? If not, ask them to do so. Look around, is the hospital environment clean? Signs of unclean hospitals include dirty floors, dirty countertops, clutter and health-care workers who don’t look professional.
  3. Comparison shop: Compare the hospital’s infection rate with the national rates published by the Centers for Disease Control. Low rates are good, and a rate below the CDC 10 percentile rate is considered very low. Ask how many trained and certified infection-control practitioners are employed. The appropriate number of infection-control personnel per occupied hospital beds is about one per 100, especially for acute care medical centers, based on a recent study.
  4. Ask the nursing staff questions: Consider that you’re an advocate and a member of the health-care team for yourself and your loved one. Inquire if hospital beds, especially intensive-care beds, are elevated at 30 degrees for patients requiring a ventilator, to help prevent ventilator-associated pneumonia.
  5. After any procedure, be persistent about cleanliness: If a catheter is in place, inquire if it’s still needed since bacteria can enter the device and quickly spread through the body. Ask if incisions are dressed appropriately and if any sign of infection has appeared.
  6. Ask the unobvious questions: The Centers for Disease Control advocates isolation to prevent transmission of germs in high-risk patients.
    If placed in isolation, ask questions about how aggressive the hospital is with infection-control strategies in isolation rooms and floors.
    Does the hospital screen high-risk patients? What kinds of patients are considered high risk? Does it carry out cultures on them to see if they carry antibiotic-resistant bacteria and should be isolated?
    Does the physician or staff check whether a patient is up to date with vaccines?
    Are hospital employees who are sick told to stay at home or go home if they’re at work?
    Ask about the hospital’s procedure for identifying infection and don’t forget to ask about custodial services. The infection-control team should make regular rounds to examine the environment and ensure all appropriate disinfection methods are followed.
    Also, inquire if the hospital has conducted emergency-preparedness training and, if so, have someone describe it for you.

“Don’t shy away from being nosy and inquisitive,” warns Shik. “As a consumer, you want to feel someone is listening to you and being forthright with you — especially about a life-and-death matter.”

Infection control is a constant challenge. That’s why it’s necessary for a hospital to retain a contingent of qualified, trained and enthusiastic sleuths with good science skills to be on continual alert. These personnel are essential to ensure that infection control ranks as a priority for everyone at the hospital.

Source: University of Kansas Hospital

Abby Berg-Hammond for University of Kansas Hospital, 312-228-6882


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