Infection Control: A Hospital Executive Speaks Out

The CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is speaking out about his hospital’s efforts to prevent deadly infections. The question is: How come few other hospital executives are talking about their efforts? Are they not making vigorous efforts? Or are they obsessed with secrecy, as so many in the medical industry are?

Paul Levy posted his hospital’s numbers on reducing “central line” infections — the infections that patients in ICUs get in the large-bore tubes that have to be inserted to monitor activity in the heart and deliver medicines to really sick people. When these infections occur, the already sick patient often dies. Pioneering work by Dr. Peter Pronovost proved that rigorous hand washing and other sanitation practices can reduce these infections to close to zero.

Mr. Levy is justifiably proud of Beth Israel’s hard work at getting its infection rate down. But he wrote a blog entry that talked about his disappointment that others have not joined in. Here’s an excerpt:

The response to my public and private entreaties in this realm has been silence — from hospital professionals, from insurance executives who care about a transformation of this industry, and, indeed, from public advocacy groups who care about access to care and the quality of care delivered. Some observers attribute the medical profession’s lack of engagement to an underlying fear of transparency. And yesterday, a world expert in this field, whose wisdom and advice I treasure, told me that he has come to accept gradual progress in quality and safety improvement, citing the kind of training doctors get, which does not emphasize these areas. That such a person has become content with gradual changes in the status quo is an indication of what it must be like to beat your head against this wall of recalcitrance for several decades.

My advantage, being without medical training and having had but a short tenure in this field, is that I retain a sense of outrage. Our collective failure to approach this problem using well established methods of process improvement — including publication of current performance results — represents a moral and ethical lapse by the clinical and administrative leadership of the medical establishment in this city. Why? Simply put, a profession that takes an oath to do no harm is, by inaction or incomplete action, doing harm. We are causing people to die who should not die. What would we call that if we saw it happening in other sectors of society?

Here’s the full blog entry, which has comments below it.

I learned about Mr. Levy’s blog from Consumer Union’s excellent blog at their Safe Patient Project website.

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