Unexpected Complications: The Phenomenon of Healthcare-Associated Infections
Part III: Nationwide Prevention Methods
Throughout most of the twentieth century, healthcare-associated infections were considered an inevitable risk of hospitalization. Now, however, it’s understood that certain prevention measures can be taken, and many agencies nationwide have been successful in minimizing HAIs due to the propagation of these methods. For instance, the CDC reports that between 2008 and 2014, there has been a 50% decrease in central line-associated bloodstream infections and a 17% decrease in surgical site infections. Though there are still great strides to be made, here are some of the methods and resources that have initiated such change, and can continue to improve the chances of a safe, infection-free stay in the hospital:
Through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has funded some of the most important initiatives to reduce and prevent HAIs. The AHRQ has funded assessment programs to evaluate the hygiene within hospitals. They have also implemented checklists and safety practices in hospitals to reduce central line-associated blood stream infections. Additionally, Congress provided AHRQ with $5 million to determine the scope and risk factors of hospital-acquired MRSA while testing methods to reduce its spread. In addition, within the past eight years, the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare has launched the Hand Hygiene project and the Surgical Site Infection project specifically with the goal of decreasing HAIs. Finally, the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network has developed definitions of common HAIs to standardize reporting of infection rates and allow for more accurate infection rate tracking over time.
Hands are the most common vehicle for transmitting germs, and though it may seem obvious, hand hygiene is one of the most simple but important actions a medical professional can take to eliminate HAIs. Hands should be washed before any aseptic procedures, after body fluid exposure, and before or after touching a patient. Medical staff should scrub their hands vigorously with soap and water for at least 15 seconds. Gloves should also be used whenever possible. A cleanly hospital environment is also crucial to the limitation of HAIs; high-quality cleaning and disinfection of all patient-care areas is crucial because some pathogens, like MRSA, can survive for long periods of time in an environment.
The CDC has a wide variety of resources provided on its website to assist with HAI detection and prevention, and many of these are related to the Target Assessment for Prevention (TAP) Strategy. Developed by the CDC, TAP is a framework for approaching infection prevention in various healthcare environments. Free resources introducing TAP, descriptions of its specific targeting, assessing, and preventing strategies, as well as tips on implementing it are available at: https://www.cdc.gov/hai/prevent/tap.html. Additionally, toolkits for evaluating environmental cleaning are available at the CDC’s webpage on HAIs.
Though recent years have seen significant improvement in minimizing healthcare-associated infections, there is still plenty of progress yet to be made. For the sake of patients that may contract them and medical professionals that could face legal action because of them, HAIs must continue to take priority among healthcare reformers. With focused effort, HAIs may not be eliminated, but they can at least exist as a less likely roadblock to a successful recovery.
 “HAI Data and Statistics,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 2, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/hai/surveillance/index.html
 “AHRQ’s Efforts to Prevent and Reduce Health Care-Associated Infections,” Oct. 2009, Agency for healthcare Research and Quality, http://www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/errors-safety/haiflyer/index.html
 “The Infection Prevention and HAI Portal,” The Joint Commission, n.d., https://www.jointcommission.org/topics/hai_ssi.aspx
 “Health Care-Associated Infections,” Patient Safety Network, July 2016, https://psnet.ahrq.gov/primers/primer/7/health-care-associated-infections
 Yatin Mehta, Abhinav Gupta, Subhash Todi, and SN Myatra, “Guidelines for prevention of hospital acquired infections,” National Institute of Health, Mar. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3963198/