Reducing healthcare infections – what it really takes

Happy holidays, constant readers. Whatever you celebrate, I hope your days are full of security, calm and joy.

For those of you reading over the break, here’s a pointer to a post that takes us on the other side of the curtain, into the world of hospital administrators. Those of us who are concerned about nosocomial infections are often confused about why HAIs are so intractable. I mean really, how hard could it be?

This post and especially its associated comments suggests why it’s so hard. It comes from the marvelous blog Running a Hospital, which is written by Paul Levy, president and CEO of the Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. As a thought experiment, he proposes getting all the hospitals in Boston (which is a LOT of hospitals: Harvard-associated, Tufts-associated, Partners, community hospitals — a huge, dense concentration) to commit to eliminating three categories of infections: central-line infections, ventilator-associated pneumonias and surgical infections, three categories for which there are well-recognized, well-tested interventions. He says:

The medical community in Boston likes to boast about the medical care here, but we don’t do a very good job holding ourselves accountable. This would be a terrific way to prove that we are serious about reducing harm to patients and that we can cooperate across hospital lines for the greater good.

It’s a stirring and elegantly simple proposal — but as we all know, simple is seldom easy, and the commenters — whom I take to be health care workers and executives as well — light up how not-easy this might be. They say:

  • It isn’t simple enough for busy employees to put into real-world practice
  • It’s unreasonable to expect hospitals in competition to collaborate
  • It’s unthinkable that insurance companies would allow this much transparency

… and on.

The entire exchange, and Levy’s blog, is worth reading. It’s a consistently succinct, thoughtful, revealing look at the complexities of modern American health care, and at the unintended consequences — such as intractable infections — those complexities can provoke.


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