More than 30,000 people contracted infections in 2006 while undergoing treatment at hospitals in Pennsylvania, according to a state report to be released today.
While the number of infections is eye-popping, most patients make it through hospital stays without experiencing the problem. About 19 patients in 1,000 get so-called hospital-acquired infections.
Still, as the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council report reveals, hospital-acquired infections are costly in both human and financial terms.
Patients who got infections remained in the hospital an average of 19 days, compared with fewer than five days for those who did not do so. Patients with infections wracked up hospital charges averaging nearly $176,000, compared with less than $34,000 for other patients.
Urinary-tract infections were the most common, affecting 13,635 patients. Nearly 4,000 patients contracted gastrointestinal infections, and there were an additional 3,326 cases of pneumonia.
The number of infected patients increased from 19,154 in 2005 to 30,237 in 2006, but the change was due to an expansion in the categories of cases that hospitals were required to report.
According to the report, 3,716 of the patients died, but the council said that its data did not indicate whether the infections contributed to the deaths.
The statewide rate of infections decreased 7 percent, to 15.1 out of 1,000 cases, when the council compared the last three months of 2006 to the same period in 2005. Hospitals were mandated to report the same kinds of infections in the fourth quarter of both years.
In Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs, 10,224 patients at the area's 42 acute-care hospitals got infections during their care. The area's rate is similar to the statewide figure.
"The report shows we are making progress, but there is more progress to be made," said Priscilla Koutsouradis, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council, which represents local hospitals.
"The goal is to get as close to zero as possible, which is extremely challenging given the susceptibility of today's extremely ill patients and the large number of virulent - and often drug-resistant - bacteria in our communities," she said.
Pennsylvania was the first state to require hospitals to report infections and the first to publicly detail infection rates by hospital. Nonetheless, differences in tracking infections and changing reporting requirements make comparisons among hospitals difficult, according to infection experts.
As a result, hospitals with higher rates might actually do a better job of fighting infections than those that reported few.
"In terms of comparative data, I think we are probably several years off from having a uniform baseline," said Jerry Zuckerman, head of infection prevention and control at Albert Einstein Medical Center.
Zuckerman, an infectious-disease doctor, said that public reporting of infections by hospital had prompted everyone to pay greater attention to solving the problem.
"Our perspective is that our numbers are too high," he said. "We want to be as close to zero as possible."
The insurance companies and government programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid, that pay for medical care are pushing hospitals to reduce infection rates as well.
The council's latest infection report is available today online at www.phc4.org.