Healthcare-Associated Infections 101

As a hospital administrator, you might be tasked with writing safety procedures and managing projects to keep your institution as clean an environment as possible. In trying to maintain these high standards, you might also run into the often-discussed issue of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Here’s the rundown on what HAIs are and why they matter to the patients and healthcare institutions that deal with them.

What is an HAI?

An HAI is an infection that happens to patients during their process of receiving treatment from a healthcare institution. Unfortunately, HAIs pose a significant problem for such institutions, as estimates say that one in every 25 patients are affected by an HAI. Clearly, HAIs are a pervasive and serious issue.

Why do they happen?

Like many healthcare concerns, HAIs can be due to a number of causes. Invasive procedures and surgeries are a big culprit, because they often involve the placement of external devices such as catheters that help a patient continue bodily functions. They can also be caused by improper hygiene on the part of healthcare workers or improper performance of health procedures.

HAIs aren’t just a problem for hospitals. They also happen in dialysis centers, outpatient care settings, and long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. So, no matter what setting you work in, you might have to contend with this growing issue.

Why are HAIs dangerous?

HAIs need to be taken seriously because they can have life-threatening implications. In 2014 alone, about 75,000 hospitalized patients died with an HAI.

One of the biggest HAI threats is antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA. The percentage of infections resistant to antibiotics is on the rise, which poses a significant threat to patients who may already be in a weakened state during their visit to a healthcare institution.

What are some ways of preventing HAIs?

Fortunately, there are resources to help hospitals and other institutions deal with these unwanted infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed a set of Infection Control Assessment Tools, which provide standard practices to reduce HAI occurrence. The set of tools includes separate worksheets for the different kinds of institutions discussed above.

For example, the worksheet for hospitals has sections on proper hand hygiene and training for correct insertion of central venous catheters, among other items to check off and comment on. Whether you, or someone else employed by a healthcare institution, would be completing such forms, it is important to understand prevention methods and to know the most up-to-date strategies for keeping patients safe.

Don’t forget hospital personnel, who can also be exposed to infections through the course of their work. Another CDC resource has ideas for how to prevent the HIV and other infections for them as well through proper procedures and protective equipment use.

]While HAIs are a scary threat to health and safety, they pose an excellent opportunity for healthcare administrators and public health professionals to make big changes for the better in several aspects of patient care. Being an informed employee is the first step.