Nosocomial infections reach the court rooms

According to recent survey by the Leapfrog Group 87% of hospitals fail to adhere infection prevention measures on a consistent basis. In the Wall Street Journal, Betsy McCaughey, chair of the Committee to Reduce Infection Death, warns against the next wave of lawsuits.

Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.
Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.
So far, hospital-acquired or nosocomial infections were “considered an unavoidable risk”, Betsy McCaughey, chair of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths and a former lieutenant governor of New York, wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week.
But this might change now: On July 30, a jury awarded over $2.5 million to a patient and his wife Mary in a medical malpractice lawsuit against a heart surgeon, his group practice and St. Anthony's Medical Center in St. Louis, Mo. In 2004 the patient was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack and a pacemaker was surgically implanted. He developed a MRSA-infectiont that was so severe that he had to underwent 15 additional operations, spent 84 days in the hospital and lost his right leg, part of his left foot, a kidney and most of his hearing.
“The verdict should be a warning to physicians, hospitals and hospital board members”, McCaughey wrote. A recent survey conducted by the Leapfrog Group found that 87% of hospitals fail to practice infection prevention measures on a consistent basis, she added. And that there is “a proof that nearly all hospital infections are avoidable when doctors and staff clean their hands and rigorously practice proper hygiene and other preventive measures.”

Hospital-acquired infections "caused by all kinds of bacteria sicken millions" of patients and will "cause the next wave of class-action lawsuits, bigger than the litigation over asbestos," according to McCaughey. She writes that "numerous lawsuits have been filed against hospitals in Florida, Kentucky and elsewhere by infected patients." According to McCaughey, although the hospitals "being sued are saying that their infection rates are within national norms," for most infections, the "only acceptable rate is zero."

She demanded that, "insurance companies that sell liability coverage to hospitals could change that by offering lower premiums to hospitals that rigorously follow infection-prevention protocols."

She writes, "To be sure, lawsuits are not the best way to improve patient care," adding, "many verdicts are unjustified, and few truly injured patients find a lawyer to take their case." However, the "coming wave of lawsuits, as well as financial incentives from Medicare and insurers, will fight complacency about hospital hygiene," McCaughey concludes (McCaughey, Wall Street Journal, 8/14).


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