The Costs of Catching an Infection in the Hospital

When a patient contracts an infection in the hospital, the cost is always high, whether it’s measured by dollars or the impact to the person’s health. We’ve visited the topic many times, and the incidence of infections is a primary measure of health-care quality.

A recently published study has quantified the financial cost of infections, and it’s pricey. According to the report in JAMA Internal Medicine, five types of hospital-acquired infections that are considered preventable when certain standards are followed cost nearly $10 billion a year in the U.S.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 20 hospitalized patients will contract an hospital-acquired infection.

The study was analyzed by The most expensive hospital acquired infections to treat were central line infections (in which an IV line is inserted into a large vein, often in the neck or near the heart, to deliver medicines or fluids or to withdraw blood), which cost $45,814 per case. The least expensive were catheter-associated urinary tract infections (a flexible tube is inserted to withdraw fluid), at about $896. Surgical site infections weren’t the most expensive ($20,785), but they imposed the biggest financial impact on health care because of their frequency; they represented more than one-third of the total cost of the hospital-acquired infections the researchers studied.

The researchers, from Harvard, examined data from the CDC and conducted a systematic review of medical literature over a 27-year period. They looked at five major types of infections associated with hospital visits-central line-associated bloodstream infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, surgical site infections, Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.

By quantifying the cost of hospital infections, according to AboutLawsuits, the researchers hope to inspire the health-care industry to invest heavily in preventive measures. Simple procedures including more frequent hand washing for health-care professionals, timely removal of catheters, deterring prolonged use and thorough instrument and patient room cleaning are widely recognized practices that help prevent many infection.

For more information, see our backgrounder, “Infections Acquired in the Hospital,” and several issues of our monthly newsletter covering various aspects of hospital care.

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