The state Department of Public Health recently released its first report on “healthcare-associated infections” (HAI) — those infections patients actually get while they’re in the hospital, such as surgical site infections or the antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA. (The full name of MRSA is the methicillin-resistant staphyloccocus aureus infection).
HAIs prompted some public outrage, both nationally and in California, and public health was charged doing something about it.
A year from now, state officials expect to have enough consistently compiled data to provide valid comparisons, officials said.
“We were able to start up a program, and this is the first set of data from that program,” said Kevin Reilly, the DPH’s chief deputy director for policy and programs. “It illustrates a problem that we know exists, and we know that there are many more of them than we should have, and we also know there are procedures that can be put in place to prevent them.”
The problem with tracking these infections — and then using that data to push hospitals to set up better systems to prevent them — is that the data has to be consistent, Reilly said.
“You have to compare apples to apples,” he said. “For instance, some hospitals specialize in high-risk patients such as burn victims, and they’re at much higher risk to get these infections. So it’s not fair to compare those hospitals with hospitals that donât cater to high-risk patients.”
The challenge was to standardize reporting data, to get hospitals to report the information in the right way, to have enough data to adjust for the type of hospital that’s reporting — and to get all of the hospitals in the state to participate.
“We’ve worked with the hospitals pretty extensively,” Reilly said, “and now just about every hospital in the state has committed to use that system.”
Because the program has advanced incrementally, Reilly said, the data to this point doesn’t reveal much.
“But by this time next year, we’ll have data people can compare from hospital to hospital,” he said.
That’s a big step ahead of where DPH was just a year ago, Reilly said.
“These infections are not 100% preventable, we understand that,” Reilly said. “But the public deserves to know how hospitals are doing with such an important health outcome. We know we can lower risk [through prevention programs], and it’s important to inform people about how hospitals are doing with that. People need to make informed decisions, to be able to compare hospitals to hospitals, and this will help them do that.”