Hospital-borne infections costing billions

Dr. Eyal Zimlichman of Sheba Medical Center finds that complications from hospital- born infections cost $9.8 billion annually.

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September 3, 2013 02:37
2 minute read.
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Doctors perform surgery (generic) R 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Swoan Parker)

Patients and institutions incur an annual cost of $9.8 billion due to complications from hospital- born infections, an Israeli physician conducting research in Boston recently uncovered.

Dr. Eyal Zimlichman of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer conducted research at Boston’s Harvard University Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital for three years in patient safety.

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He recently returned to the Tel Hashomer hospital to serve as its deputy director-general in charge of quality and is equally concerned about nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections in Israel. The state comptroller reported earlier this year that on an annual basis, 4,000 to 6,000 Israelis die of complications from such infections and 40,000 – or 7 to 10 percent – of all hospital patients are adversely affected. Zimlichman said the trend in the United States is moving toward fewer nosocomial infections, but the tide has not yet turned here.

“In fact, the Health Ministry is dealing with this field more than before, but without investing funds specifically for this purpose and hiring more personnel in the field of infection prevention, there will be no change in direction here,” he explained.

Zimlichman recently published an article on the subject of US nosocomial infections in JAMA Internal Medicine as the head of a team of researchers that included eight others from Massachusetts and Texas.

Pointing out that health-associated infections (HAIs) are associated with high costs, the team wrote, “Better evaluation of the cost of these infections could help providers and payers justify investing in prevention.”

“As one of the most common sources of preventable harm, health care-associated infections represent a major threat to patient safety,” it continued.



According to the research, on a per-case basis, infections of the bloodstream connected to infusion in US hospitals were found to be the most costly HAIs at $45,814 per patient, followed by ventilator-associated pneumonia at $40,144, surgical site infections at $20,785, Clostridium difficile infections (a bacteria affecting the delicate balance in the colon) at $11,285 and catheter-associated urinary tract infections at $896.

More than a decade since the Institute of Medicine’s landmark report “To Err is Human” brought patient safety to the fore, the article stated, “US hospitals remain less safe than they should be. Hospital-acquired infections account for a large proportion of the harms caused by health care and high rates of morbidity and mortality, and costs.

We estimated that there are approximately 440,000 of these infections annually in the US in adult inpatients and that their annual costs are $9.8 billion. Over a third of these costs are attributable to surgical site infections, with a quarter due to ventilator-associated pneumonia and a fifth to catheter-related bloodstream infection...

“While quality improvement initiatives have decreased HAI incidence and costs, much more remains to be done. As hospitals realize savings from prevention of these complications under payment reforms, they may be more likely to invest in such strategies,” the study concludes.

The research was a meta-analysis of 26 major studies published in PubMed between 1986 and April 2013.


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