How Big of a Public Health Issue Is Patient Safety?
Patient Safety Alicia Cole went to the hospital for routine surgery. She didn’t think her procedure would ultimately lead to many more.
During the course of her medical care and recovery, Cole was infected with three life-threatening drug-resistant superbugs and developed sepsis, a body’s overwhelming response to an infection that can lead to organ failure and even death.
The big picture
Alicia’s story is all too common. Patients face a risk of contracting new infections when being treated at a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office and many of these infections are resistant to antibiotics.
Many of the most urgent and serious drug-resistant threats are health care-related. On any given day, 1 out of every 25 hospital patients has at least one health care-associated infection (HAI), and many of these infections are resistant to at least one of the drugs commonly used to treat them.
Resistant infections are also spread in other health care settings, such as dialysis facilities, surgery centers and nursing homes. And these germs can spread easily throughout a community as people are transferred from one facility to the next.
"There is significant data indicating that far too many patients are getting infected with dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria in health care settings."
The movement to improve patient safety has seen some important advances. Private and public partnerships have enhanced hospital transparency and accountability and increased awareness of the need to protect patients from inadvertent harm in acute-care hospitals.
Yet a recent report notes that more needs to be done to meet the important goal of protecting all patients in all health care settings. In addition, there is significant data indicating that far too many patients are getting infected with dangerous, drug-resistant bacteria in health care settings. In acute-care hospitals, 1 in 7 catheter- and surgery-related HAIs is caused by one of the six most serious and urgent antibiotic-resistant bacteria. That number increases to 1 in 4 infections in long-term acute care hospitals, where patients are generally very sick and stay several weeks on average.
It’s therefore imperative that doctors, nurses, health care facility administrators, state and local health departments continue to do their part to prevent health care-associated infections. Health care facilities can better stop the spread of these costly and difficult-to-kill germs by working more closely together.
How we get there
Doctors and nurses can combine three critical efforts to accomplish this:
Prevent the spread of bacteria among patients
Prevent infections related to surgery and placement of catheters
Improve antibiotic use through stewardship, making sure patients get the right drugs at the right time
Together, we are encouraging patients to step up as well, by pledging to be active members of their health care team, asking questions and freely sharing their concerns.
Alicia was an actress and athlete. Now because of her health care-acquired infections, she struggles with pain and has weekly physical therapy sessions. Full recovery may be a long way off. Despite this, she works tirelessly to raise awareness about patient safety and advocates for policies to protect patients.
Patient safety is as important a public health issue as chronic disease and cancer prevention. The fact is, anyone might be a patient some day. So we all have a stake in working together to make sure our health care system is as safe as possible.