Costly infections are often preventable

More than 13,000 patients contracted infections during their care at hospitals in Pennsylvania in the last six months of 2008, according to a report last month by the state Department of Health.

Nationwide these so-called health care-associated infections (HAIs) affect an estimated 1.7 million patients.

Pennsylvania residents can use this database to see how many infections your local hospital

HAIs are costly both in financial and human terms, according to a study this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine by a team of researchers from a Washington D.C. nonprofit that examined the impact of bloodstream infections – or sepsis – and hospital-acquired pneumonia. 

Nearly 20 percent of the patients who contracted sepsis during care that involved surgery died. The average length of a hospital stay for those patients was nearly 11 days and the cost was $32,900. And for hospital-acquired pneumonia the associated cost was $46,400 for stays that averaged 14 days. The death rate was 11.4 percent in the pneumonia cases, the researchers said.

Pennsylvania was one of the first states to publicly report on infection rates at individual hospitals. Experts caution that hospitals that find and report large numbers of infections might be doing better at tackling the problem than those that report few or none.

Those experts also note that hospitals that attract sicker patients and patients whose immune systems are compromised - by cancer treatment or organ transplantation, for example - tend to have higher infection rates.

Still, many hospital-acquired infections are believed to be preventable.

Search for data on total infections, bloodstream infections and pneumonia at hospitals in Pennsylvania by name, or browse the list here.

Nearly 1,700 bloodstream infections were reported by hospitals in Pennsylvania in the last six months of 2008. Hospitals also reported nearly 1,400 hospital-acquired pneumonia cases.

In addition to detailing the total number of infections at each hospital, the state health department focused on certain bloodstream infections and urinary tract infections. Infection rates were adjusted to account for the how sick patients were. Higher-than-expected rates of potentially deadly bloodstream infections were reported by 58 Pennsylvania hospitals, including the Albert Einstein Medical Center, Aria Health, and Lankenau Hospital.

The full report is available online from the department.