Sepsis = Profits?

One of the complications patients dread most when they're in a hospital's ICU  is preventable blood infections, or sepsis, which every year kills almost 30,000 in the U.S. alone.

According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, however, hospitals make three times as much money off patients who develop blood infections than they do off plain old infections.  That's because insurers pay more for these kinds of complications.

The study points out that hospitals may have no incentive to try to cut back on these bloodstream infections because they're very profitable.

It may sound hard to believe, but a story at reports that researchers "found that an ICU patient who develops an avoidable central line-associated bloodstream infection costs nearly three times more to care for than a similar infection-free patient."  Even more relevant for profit-driven hospitals (aren't they all?):  hospitals earn nearly nine times more, from insurers, for treating infected patients, who spend an average of 24 days in the hospital, the study found.

Infections happen when "thin plastic tubes, or central lines, are placed in ICU patients to administer medication or fluids, obtain blood for tests, and directly gauge cardiovascular measurements such as central venous blood pressure," explains.

But the tubes are easily contaminated -- a doctor forgets to wash his hands or his lunch of sushi is on his tie as he bends over the patient -- and each year roughly 80,000 patients with central lines become infected.

Some 28,000 are estimated to die — nearly as many as those who die from breast cancer annually — and the cost of treating them may be as high as $3 billion nationally, according to experts.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins point out that private insurers would do well to work with hospitals to reduce infection rates.  But there may not be much motivation for hospitals struggling just to keep the lights on.  The story adds that each sepsis infection (when it doesn't kill the patient) costs these insurers $40,000 per hospital stay.

When I entered the hospital six years ago for major surgery, I went in with an infection.  I was so paranoid about sepsis that I left less than 24 hours later, even though I'd been in the operating room for seven hours, barely 18 hours before.

So will we see decreases in hospital bloodstream infections when it's so against a hospital's bottom line?  It's hard to believe a place for healing would be so crass and cynical but survival is survival, I guess.


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