New healthcare reform mandates and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are focusing on financial incentives and penalties to address the problem.
They classify hospital-acquired infections as “never events”—things that simply should not happen in a hospital—and starting in 2015, hospitals will lose government funding anytime they occur.
Certainly, eliminating HAIs is critical to quality and affordable healthcare, and they are, in fact, wholly preventable. But hospitals need solutions, not just carrots and sticks. Many infection-prevention efforts have shown little success because they involve changing human behavior within the hospital setting. We have, however, seen that better application of evidence-based preventive measures, delivered through newer technologies, can reduce rates of HAIs within an institution.
Clinicians at patients’ bedsides cannot turn the tide alone. The entire healthcare industry must work together to develop, promote and adopt the use of new technologies to help change behavior and propel better infection prevention.
Emerging tools provide promising solutions.
Some emerging technology offers simple solutions to this complex problem. For instance, frequent hand washing is without a doubt the best known method for infection prevention. It is now possible to use technology to determine whether a person entering a hospital room—a clinician or visitor—has washed his or her hands. This technology is currently only a prototype, but its future availability could go a long way toward infection prevention.
Other technology tools are officially in use, but are not yet widely adopted. For example, software surveillance tools, like Hospira's TheraDoc systemand others, use alerts and data to help hospitals quickly identify and isolate infections.
During last year’s H1N1 outbreak, several hospitals found such tools useful because they were able to track patient information to monitor which patients were being admitted with influenza-like symptoms—and manage the situation to curtail further spread of the infection. Hospital systems with multiple facilities could monitor all patients from one central location. The same technology provides an easy means for hospitals to report data to public-health officials and track compliance with initiatives like the Joint Commission National Patient Safety Goals, aimed at reducing adverse events with high-risk medications.