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Michigan study shows that hospital infections are not inevitable

For years doctors and hospitals operated under the notion that certain types of infections were simply an unavoidable risk of certain procedures. But a Michigan study has shown that a simple, and mostly commonsense, checklist of best practices can dramatically reduce the rate of infection caused by these procedures.

Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins University conducted a study in Michigan in which he instituted a simple five-step checklist to for medical staff to perform when they were placing a central line catheter in a patient. The rate of these types of infections in Michigan hospitals had been well above the national average. After 18 month of using the checklists, most intensive care units had virtually eliminated these infections.

As you may know a central line catheter is similar to an IV but are placed in larger blood vessels and can be left in the patient for a longer amount of time. Nationally, between 30,000 and 60,000 people die each year from infections associated with central line catheters.

The checklist implemented in the pilot program did not involve high tech procedures and specialized sterilization equipment.

Rather the checklist which drastically reduced this potentially fatal cause of infection included instructing doctors to wash their hands, wear a mask, clean the patient's skin, avoid placing the catheter in the groin, and remove it as soon as possible.

Dr. Pronovost explained that instituting this checklist resulted in a cultural change around the way medical professionals thought about the risk of infection. When, as before, the infection were seen as an unavoidable side effect it is likely the staff may not have spent as much energy ensuring that everything aspect of the procedure was sanitary, assuming that an infection was likely regardless. By demonstrating that the proper standard of car could greatly reduce the infection rate these procedures become a highly visible and strictly followed priority.

Source: Atlanta Journal Constitution "When the treatment makes patients sick" Carrie Teegardin, June 12, 2011

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