At the University of Virginia Hospital, they’ve virtually eliminated MRSA. Veterans Hospital in Pittsburgh reduced its infection rate by 85 percent. How did they do it? A program that requires medical personnel to wash their hands before seeing a patient. The hospitals also make sure staffers wear clean uniforms, that all equipment is carefully cleaned and that hospital rooms are scrubbed after each patient. Patients themselves should be checked: If they test positive for MRSA, the hospital can isolate them so the bug can’t spread to others.
There are good medical reasons to prevent infections, but there’s a financial incentive as well.
A study of hospitals in 13 states showed that the 5 percent of patients who get a hospital infection take up two thirds of the hospital’s profits. That’s a lot of money to waste on a problem that’s easily prevented. If everyone would just wash their hands more often, some failing hospitals could move from the red into the black.
The importance of hand washing is something all doctors should learn in medical school. But “most medical schools devote virtually no time, not even one full class, to showing students how bacteria are transmitted from patient to patient,” Betsy McCaughey says. That’s why she founded the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. If the group can convince doctors to scrub up, it will have taken a huge step to improve health care in this country.
Few would disagree that we need medicine to be more “hands-on” -- but only if those hands are clean.