Hospital-acquired infections are generally caused by fungal, viral, or bacterial pathogens. When these pathogens come into contact with hospital patients, either through errant sterilization procedures or by another means, the patient may contract an infection. Common hospital-acquired infections include pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and infections that result at the locally around the point of incision for a surgical procedure. Some of these pathogens may be highly resistant to antibiotics given that they have survived and reproduced in an environment where the least adaptable pathogens are continually killed off. This can result in virulent strains that are extremely difficult for hospitals to adequately treat.
Beyond the physical risk that hospital-acquired infections pose to patients, they also represent a massive expense in terms of medical liability and potential malpractice lawsuits. Essentially, if a given hospital has a high rate of hospital-acquired infections, their insurance premiums will be much higher. The hospital then faces a difficult choice: 1) pass this cost on to the consumer in the form of higher baseline costs for healthcare services or 2) attempt to absorb the costs incurred by the increased insurance premiums.
Initiatives begun as a result of the Affordable Care Act of 2010, which represents the most significant healthcare reform in the U.S. in over 40 years, have shown to be effective at reducing hospital-acquired infections. The initiatives centered on basic healthcare services and hospital practices, such as the early removal of urinary catheters , whereas previously catheters had been left in for an extending period of time, leading to a higher incidence of urinary tract infection. Though these practices may require more work on the part of hospital staff, they help maintain baseline prices for healthcare services at their most economical levels. Under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) these initiatives have piloted at dozens of hospitals nationwide and may soon become standard practice across the country.
One key aspect of these health initiatives has been the emphasis placed upon patient education. Previously, patients were not necessarily given explicit training about the risks of hospital-acquired infections in addition to methods capable of preventing these infections during one’s hospital stay or at any point during post-operative care. Adequate rest, nutrition, and hydration is essential not only to maximize a patient’s chances at a quick recovery, but also to give their immune system the best chance at neutralizing pathogens before they have an opportunity to take hold. As with patient education under the Affordable Care Act, educating hospital staff regarding the risks of hospital-acquired infection can be a huge help. Though all hospital staff have been previously trained in such matters, the day-to-day stresses of hospital operation can sometimes push that training to the side.