National Database Needed for HAI Tracking

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media , July 15, 2010

If efforts "fall short to stop this epidemic," McGiffert says, "10 million hospital patients will get an infection over the next five years and a half a million of them will die," she adds. "We definitely need accountability."

An ongoing effort can be seen in the states that have passed legislation requiring specific HAI reporting plans to be in place. Only one state, though—Pennsylvania—has been publicly releasing hospital-specific data related to HAIs to the public.

To assess whether the HHS's action plan's metrics and targets are being met, it will be necessary to reveal these results to the public in "a meaningful way"—or at the hospital level, McGiffert says.

A proposed federal regulation to report central line bloodstream infections in ICU patients and surgical infection, for instance, is a start toward this accountability—but it does not go far enough, says McGiffert.

All of the HAI targets should be included in the public reporting proposal—especially measures relating to MRSA, c.difficile, urinary tract infections, and ventilator associated pneumonia.

Some strides are being made in pushing the rates of various HAIs down. For instance, in late May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a first-ever report showing that U.S. healthcare facilities reduced the rate of central line associated bloodstream infections—which claim the lives of 30,000 patients each year—by 18%.

The new report is based on surveillance data collected through the CDC's healthcare associated infection monitoring system, the National Healthcare Safety Network. NHSN is now used among 21 other states as well to collect data, McGiffert notes.

While not all HAIs are preventable, the Association for Professionals in Infection Control found that a number of its member facilities have seen their central line associated bloodstream infections reduced—sometimes to zero—and that in many instances "zero" can be maintained.

This is information that the public would be interested in seeing—the sooner the better. So if public reporting of infection rates can serve as a powerful tool for holding hospitals accountable for reducing infection risks and keeping patients safe, why wait for data five years from now?

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at

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