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Frank Bailey
Frank Bailey
Contributor •

Should Patients Pay for Hospital Acquired Infections?

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How would you feel if you took your car in for a $35.00 oil change; the mechanic dropped your car off the lift blowing out all of your tires and caused over a $1000.00 dollars in damage to your tires, would you pay for new tires so you could drive home? I hope not!

But that is just what has been happening in American hospitals on a daily basis. If a patient goes into a hospital for minor surgery and contracts an infection in the hospital because the hospital failed to use basic sanitiary practices, the hospital charges the patient for the antibiotics, surgery and extra days needed to treat the infection which can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But that is starting to change. As of October 1, 2008, Medicare, stoped paying hospitals for several types of obviously preventable infections. These infections are so preventable that Medicare authorities call them "never" events. That means they should never happen. Lawyers are beginning to have the evidence they need to win these cases involving hospital acquired infections.

In the past, Medicare’s indifference to quality and safety gave hospitals little incentive to be careful. As long as Medicare paid the hospital for the extra cost to treat preventable infections what incentive did hospitals have to clean up their act? Arkansas has passed legislation to require hospitals to report their infection rate to the Arkansas Department of Health, but these infection rates are still not aviable to the public

CDC has documented that hospital acquired infections kill more than 100,000 people in America each year. That’s more than AIDS, breast cancer and automobile accidents combined.

The evidence is compelling that the infections Medicare will no longer pay to treat are preventable and patients can recover for their harms and losses.

Thomas Valuck, medical officer for Medicare, explains that the evidence is solid. He cites several hospitals around the country that have totally eradicated one of the deadliest "never" infections, central line blood stream infections.

When very sick patients are medicated through a tube inserted into their artery, the risk is that bacteria will invade the tube and enter the blood stream.

Rigorous hygiene, including clean hands and sterile drapes, are needed to keep the bacteria away from the tube. Valuck cited a recent survey from the patient safety group Leapfrog showing that 87 percent of hospitals fail to consistently follow the proven steps to prevent infections.

New York’s experience proves that hospitals committed to eradicating infections can do it. Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City reports that it has hasn’t had a central line bloodstream infection in the cardiac intensive care unit since Nov. 25, 2005. Think of the number of families that have left the hospital grateful rather than grieving, as a result.

Over the next few weeks we will be publishing some steps patients can take to protect themselves from these hospital acquired infections. If you have an interest in preventing more families from this horrible experience I invite you to join with us in fighting this preventable disease.