Healthcare-associated infections (HAI) contribute significantly to U.S. health costs and spending. They can be a major problem in hospitals, with one in every 20 hospitalized patients contracting a healthcare-associated infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, HAIs kill more than 1.7 million people and cost hospitals between $28 billion and $45 billion.

Eighty percent of healthcare-associated infections come from just a few sources: catheters in large veins (also called central lines), ventilator-associated pneumonia, surgical-site infections, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

The problem has gotten the attention of Medicare and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Earlier this year Medicare rates of hospital-acquired infections from central line catheters was to its list of publicly available information, which consumers use to compare hospitals. HHS has developed actions plans to prevent healthcare-associated infections in a variety of provider settings, including acute-care hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, and end-stage renal disease facilities.

AHRQ Reviews Literature on Strategies to Reduce HAIs:

In recognition of the need to address infections in a range of providers, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently revised its report on healthcare-associated infections to include not only hospitals but also ambulatory surgical centers, freestanding dialysis centers, and long-term care facilities. AHRQ reviewers sought out published research and results on efforts to reduce infections, and the report identifies several quality improvement strategies to control HAIs.

An overview of the AHRQ’s findings:

  • There is moderate evidence that hospitals using audit and feedback systems, plus provider reminders, improved infection rates
  • Hospitals that used audit and feedback alone also improved infection rates, at a moderate level of evidence
  • There was only weak evidence that infection rates improved when hospitals used provider reminder systems alone
  • AHRQ did not have enough evidence to say whether quality improvement strategies including organizational change and provider education had any effect on infection rates

Though financial incentives and patient education might also prove to be effective strategies to prevent healthcare-associated infections, the AHRQ study found only two research articles on each of those topics. AHRQ also did not find enough research on cost savings from anti-infection quality improvements, or on means to reduce infections in non-hospital provider settings, such as nursing homes.

Readers interested in all of the technical details can click here for the full Evidence Report.