The NCSL Blog


By Martha King

When facing a hospital stay, patients should not have to worry about dying from an infection acquired in the hospital.

Still, in 2011, about 75,000 deaths were related to infections acquired in U.S. acute-care hospitals. On any given day, about 1 in 25 U.S. patients becomes infected while hospitalized, amounting to about 722,000 such incidents in 2011—the most recent year those statistics were compiled—according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Recent national headlines about infections spread by improperly cleaned medical equipment used for gastrointestinal or colon procedures has renewed public attention about healthcare associated infections. For example, in a Virginia Mason Medical Center case, 32 patients were identified as infected, and 11 died last year after endoscopes remained contaminated even after cleaning.

Other headlines have brought some good news. The National and State Healthcare-Associated Infections Progress Report, reveals that overall healthcare-associated infections have dropped significantly since 2008. For example:

  • Central line bloodstream infections decreased 46 percent and selected “surgical site infections” declined by 19 percent between 2008 and 2013.
  • Between 2011 and 2013, hospital MRSA infections (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) decreased by 8 percent.

But challenges remain. Catheter-associated urinary tract infections rose 6 percent between 2009 and 2013, and the nation has yet to achieve the overall improvement goal set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

State-specific data reveal significant improvements in virtually all states since 2008 for central line associated bloodstream infections, but mixed results for many other measures.

For example, Illinois outperformed the national average for at least four types of infections. Both public and private sector initiatives contribute to reducing infection rates. On the public side, the state-specific data report indicates which states require data reporting and access by the health department. Some states require hospitals to report publicly their data related to infection rates and other patient safety provisions.

Federal policy now requires state Medicaid programs to implement nonpayment polices for provider preventable conditions including health care-acquired conditions.

The Affordable Care Act created the Partnership for Patients, under which 80 percent of hospitals participate in a quality improvement collaborative.

More information about the Partnership and other public and private strategies to improve patient safety may be found in Bending the Curve on Patient Safety? supported by The Commonwealth Fund, which promotes a high performing health care system. NCSL also published a brief with additional information, “Partnership for Patients: Spreading Innovations to Save Lives and Reduce Costs.”

Martha King is group director of NCSL's health program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.