Officials say patients must be vigilant to control infections

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(Host) Vermont hospitals compare well with their peers around the country when it comes to controlling infections.

Yet hospital officials say doctors and their patients need to be constantly vigilant to prevent infections, especially from those caused by new strains of drug resistant bacteria.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state gives hospitals a report card every year, and one of the things the grades are based on is how well hospitals treat and prevent infections.

The report tracks things like central line infections, which are spread by intravenous tubes that are usually inserted near the heart. These can be very serious and life threatening. The report also examines surgical site infections that occur after hysterectomies.

(Jones) "When you look at the infections and the numbers of infections, Vermont hospitals seem to stack up pretty well against the national average.”

(Dillon) Pat Jones is direct of health care quality improvement at the state division of health care administration.

Jones says consumers can use the information to see how their local hospital ranks against its peers and against others around the country.

(Jones) "And we’re also trying to put information that shows consumers what hospitals are doing to prevent infections. So I think both those pieces of information can help consumers if they’re facing a surgery or trying to find out more about infection prevention in hospitals.”

(Dillon) At Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, physicians and medical staff have cut infection rates after an intense focus on education and prevention.

Doctor John Brumsted is the chief quality officer at Fletcher Allen, the state’s largest hospital.

(Brumsted) "We have not had a central line infection in our medical intensive care unit since December 2007, when we had one. And that ten years ago or even five years ago was absolutely unheard of.”

(Dillon) Brumsted said precautions are used when inserting the central lines and the tubes are left in for as short a time as possible.

(Brumsted) "Making sure that the right kind of antiseptic soap is used, the right kind of draping of the patient, wearing not just sterile gloves but gown and mask. And again, just every single day the patient has that central line in asking the question, `Do we need this central line in or can it come out today?”’

(Dillon) Hospital officials are also concerned about the new strains of bacteria that resist many antibiotics. For the first time this year, the state has tracked how well hospitals do to prevent and control drug-resistant infections.

And hospitals also have to track whether antibiotics are prescribed and used appropriately.

(Brumsted) "You know that goes back to a responsibility of the physician’s but also of patients, patients not to push for antibiotics, if a practitioner feels it’s not a type of infection that an antibiotic is appropriate for. And for the physicians to make sure that they’re using the appropriate antibiotic.”

(Dillon) Patients should also be ready to challenge hospital staff if they don’t think infection procedures are being followed. Jill Olson is vice president for policy at the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.

(Olson) “These are really important issues to talk about with their physicians, with their nurses. And that everyone should feel very comfortable making sure that anyone taking care of them have washed their hands. That’s an OK thing for patients to ask and a very reasonable question.”

(Dillon) The hospital report cards also provide information about heart attack care, nurse staffing and mortality rates for certain surgical procedures.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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