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Drugs & Medical Devices

Is Your Hospital Killing You?

— October 28, 2015

Inappropriate antibiotic use has been an issue in healthcare settings for the last several years. The fact is, such use has created a new group of “superbugs” for which there are no effective treatments. Hospital stays expose vulnerable patients to the new bugs every hour. According to the CDC, almost 650,000 patients per year are infected. Of that number, an estimated 75,000 actually die. That’s twice as many deaths as those caused by car accidents.

When you think of safe places to be when you’re sick or injured, chances are good that “hospital” makes the top of the list. Ironically, hospitals may be one of the worst places to be as inappropriate antibiotic use is creating superbugs that can’t always be killed. These superbugs can spread to unsuspecting patients, causing serious injury, even death. Is your hospital killing you?

Hospital-caused infections are one of the many criteria used to determine a hospital’s safety rating. You’d think, with all of the efforts to be clean and sterile, that this would be a minor issue. Not so. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, roughly 648,000 U.S. patients end up with infections that are unrelated to the reason for their hospital stays.

That’s a shockingly high statistic, but nowhere near as surprising as this one: of that 648,000, an estimated 75,000 patients die from these infections. That is more than double the number of car crash fatalities in a given year. Many of those infections and deaths can be traced back to improper antibiotic use.

CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, M.D. said, “Hospitals can be hot spots for infections and can sometimes amplify spread. Patients with serious infections are near sick and vulnerable patients—all cared for by the same health care workers sometimes using shared equipment.”


Add in improper use of antibiotics and you have “the perfect storm” for the development and spread of infections, according to D. Arjun Srinivasan, M.D. Dr. Srinivasan heads the CDC’s efforts to prevent hospital-caused infections.

He said, “We’ve reached the point where patients are dying of infections in hospitals that we have no antibiotics to treat.” While Dr. Srinivasan says some hospitals are making efforts to stop improper antibiotic use and reduce hospital-caused infections, “others have made little effort.”

The impact of these infections cannot be glossed over as just one statistic measuring a hospital’s safety record. The “data points” are human lives. Terry Otey is one of the lives cut short by this problem.

Mr. Otey had back surgery at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Washington three years ago. The surgery required one overnight stay. Three weeks later, Mr. Otey was in the ER complaining of dizziness, vomiting and excruciating pain in his back.

He had developed a MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infection at the surgical incision site. The infection spread to his heart. After suffering three months of serious health issues, Mr. Otey passed away in the hospital. Deborah Bussell, Mr. Otey’s sister, said, “He just wanted to ease his back pain enough to play golf.”

Another, more fortunate, patient, Kellie Pearson had heart surgery in April 2014. She was given antibiotics with the goal of preventing a post-operative infection. That’s not what happened. The antibiotics killed off the healthy bacteria in her body, leaving her immune system weakened. Ms. Pearson was infected with C. diff (clostridium difficile). This infection caused Ms. Pearson to have severe diarrhea that required an extra five days in the hospital as doctors fought to stop the potentially deadly infection.

Fortunately, Ms. Pearson recovered. She soon had another horrifying experience, though. She said, “When I was able to walk down the hall in the hospital, I was horrified to see room after room with C. diff caution signs on their doors warning that the patients inside, like me, had been infected.”

I am a huge believer in patient advocacy. In other words, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions, even if it upsets them!

You are the “customer” and doctors are there to provide you a service. It’s no different than a trip to your favorite store. Just as you are in charge of your shopping experience, you are also in charge of your health.

Some docs will get cranky when you ask them questions as they see it as a challenge to their authority. I say, “Tough luck!” Doctors are not gods. They are qualified “mechanics” that happen to “service” biological vehicles (us!).

I’ve had experiences, both with my healthcare and my Mom’s, when I’ve literally stood nose-to-nose with doctors who wanted treatments that I knew (from heavy research) were counter-productive. Some complimented me on my research and thanked me for being such an outspoken advocate for my mother. Others got angry and I had them removed from her case.

The moral of the story is: ask questions, especially about antibiotic use (they’re not always necessary!) and infection prevention protocols. The life you save may just be your own!



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