There's an op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal by one Betsy McCaughey which has my blood pressure up. The article titled, "Hospital Infections: Preventable and Unacceptable" implies that any hospital acquired infection was preventable and should be remedied with class action lawsuits.
For someone who's bright like Ms. McCaughey, she shows little insight and understanding apparently into what drives and perpetuates many different types of infections. Nobody disagrees that common sense steps like hand washing and protocols for invasive intravenous (IV) access maintenance are important in limiting infections, it is both a dangerous and disingenuous idea to suggest that a goal of ZERO is attainable. It is impossible to achieve a failure rate of 0% for system or process, particularly one with infinite numbers of variables (as with a human population of patients). Unlike a Toyota, no two models of the human assembly line are exactly alike (even identical twins gradual accumulate differences due to environmental exposure).
Patients with more comorbities are going to have higher infection rates PERIOD. An overweight, diabetic, smoker (a frequent demographic for vascular disease patients in my neck of the woods) who has open heart surgery has more problems then others and an increased infection rate is more attributable to the patient's behavior rather then the hospital. Obese patients and smokers have higher rates of problems after elective plastic surgery (like breast reconstruction or reduction for instance)as well for that matter. You can be sure at some point, hospitals (and doctors) will be looking at patient demographic data to exclude higher risk patients from treatment at their facility whatsoever.
In referring to a list of "never events" recently laid out by Medicare for which they will not cover the cost of complications she blithely writes
"No wonder Medicare calls these infections "never events" Why should jurors reach a different conclusion in a lawsuit."
This coming from a bureaucrat and politician is hard to take. While we should always strive to be perfect, it's important to realize that there are processes which we can all agree on to attain low and reproducible rates of infection.
For a related writing here on Plastic Surgery 101 see the post "Medicare announces they won't pay for complications - How the F*** is this going to work?" that I wrote last year.