By LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON (April 2, 2009)—Nearly 100,000 Americans die each year from a disease that scientists have a cure for, said Dr. Peter Pronovost, Johns Hopkins University professor.
This "cure" isn't found in a pill or medical therapy, but in a safety program for medical professionals that ensures safe practices through checklists and measuring hospital-acquired infection rates.
Pronovost and other health care professionals testified Wednesday before the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies on how to combat hospital- acquired infections, also known as health care-associated infections, in the United States.
The panel told Chairman David Obey, D-Wis., Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and ranking member Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., that the large number of deaths from these preventable infections each year could be curbed with a change in hospital protocol.
"We need to make doggone sure that every single person that walks into a hospital knows what the infection rate is," Obey said.
There are an estimated 1.7 million infections each year in U.S. hospitals resulting in 98,987 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is six times more than the number of people who die from AIDS- related diseases each year, Pronovost said.
"The disease is real, the disease is deadly and the disease is costly," said Pronovost, director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
And the public isn't even aware of the problem, he said. "These deaths are invisible," Pronovost said. Tiahrt agreed saying, "It's an injustice we want to correct."
Most hospitals, including those in Maryland have "best practices," which are professional safety guidelines for performing routine procedures.
"It would be unwise to regulate the use of the checklist," said Pronovost.
It should be mandatory for all hospitals to report patient infections, he said. Data for hospital-acquired infections are reported to the National Healthcare Safety Network only from member hospitals.
Maryland, which joined in 2008, is one of about 20 states that participate in NHSN, said Pam Barclay, director of the Center for Hospital Services for the Maryland Healthcare Commission.
The commission mandated that all Maryland hospitals join NHSN last July and has since been recording data on central line-associated bloodstream infections, one type of health-care associated infection, said Barclay.
"We have not yet developed a strategy on the statewide basis," Barclay said about enforcing state safety health care practices, including hand-washing. Barclay also said each hospital develops and enforces its own guidelines with the help of the Maryland Patient Safety Center, a section of the MHCC. MHCC's advisory committee does stress the importance of such hygienic practices to help ensure patient safety.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.