How safe and clean are hospitals?

October 5, 2015

The reality is that germs are prevalent in hospitals and they can lead to serious health problems. This guide will help you understand how safe and clean hospitals really are.

How safe and clean are hospitals?

Common infections in hospitals

The threat of infections doubles the risk that you will become even sicker or die if you are admitted to a hospital. If you need to be hospitalized, the complication you're most apt to develop is an infection, which happens to as many as one out of 10 patients.

  • Hospitals are full of sick people, many with depressed immune systems. That means some infections are probably inevitable — but many others are not. For instance, the most common infection a patient may pick up is a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Up to one in four patients must have a catheter, or tube, inserted into the urethra to remove urine from the bladder. Bacteria on the catheter can cause a UTI, so keeping these tubes clean and removing them when no longer needed should be major priorities. While antibiotics can usually take care of a UTI, other common infections are more serious.
  • Skin incisions may become infected after surgery, a problem that can be reduced by giving antibiotics before an operation.
  • More serious still, patients who need ventilators or feeding tubes are at risk for lung infections that cause pneumonia, the leading cause of infection in intensive care units.
  • Microbes that are resistant to one or more antibiotics cause nearly 70 percent of hospital-acquired infections.
  • You may have heard about the most notorious super-bug of all — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. "Staph" infections picked up in the hospital used to be easy to treat with antibiotics, but MRSA is staph on steroids. It often requires several courses of powerful antibiotics and can be deadly.
  • In 1974, MRSA caused two percent of staph infections in hospitals. Today, it accounts for 63 percent of all staph infections. Unfortunately, MRSA infections have become more common outside hospitals, too.

Safety concerns

Some medical centres have instituted changes to make patients safer, but a lot of problems remain.

  • Where would you rather be if your heart started beating erratically — in a hospital or a casino? Put your money on the casino. Most are equipped with defibrillators, and the odds are better than 50-50 that you'll survive cardiac arrhythmia if you keel over on the craps table.
  • By comparison, just a third of arrhythmia patients in hospitals survive. Granted, people in hospitals are much sicker to begin with, but a 2008 study showed that 30 percent of patients who need defibrillator "shocks" fail to get them within the recommended two minutes.
  • Wait — weren't hospitals supposed to shape up after a recent headline-grabbing Institute of Medicine report? The authors called for a 50 percent reduction in deaths from medical errors, but five years after the report was published, an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine complained that not much had changed.
  • Some doctors say the alarming statistics about medical errors are overblown. Nonetheless, hospitals will soon feel pressure to do more to protect patient safety. A growing number of insurers have announced they will no longer pay for treatment related to "never events" — incidents that should never happen to a hospital patient.

Entering a hospital can be a huge health risk. Keep this guide in mind and understand the infections and safety risks of visiting a hospital.

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