Guest Column | August 10, 2017

Countering HAIs And Superbugs At VA Health Facilities With Surveillance And Innovation

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By Diane Ratner, Senior Product Line Manager, DSS, Inc.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a warning about the enormous threat antibiotic resistant “superbugs” pose to public health. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) also confirmed a Reno, NV woman ran out of treatment options and died of a “superbug” resistant to 26 antibiotics. Former CDC Director Tom Frieden has stated “the medicine cabinet is empty” and the threat is growing.

Superbugs are bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that have developed immunity to the antibiotic or antimicrobial drugs we currently have available. The CDC estimates 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals are either inappropriate or unnecessary, which is a key contributor to the rise in antibiotic resistant diseases. The CDC reports antibiotic resistance affects more than 2 million patients and causes 23,000 deaths annually. The cost of antibiotic resistance in the U.S. is $20 billion per year and results in an estimated 8 million additional hospital days of stay per year.

The inappropriate use of antibiotics and increase in resistant superbugs in healthcare are contributors to the ongoing challenge of healthcare associated infections (HAIs), which are infections or disease states a patient develops after entering the hospital. The risk in simply being admitted to the hospital is staggering: One out of every 25 patients is likely to acquire an HAI. The CDC’s Arjun Srinivasan, MD says, “It’s ‘the perfect storm’ for infections to develop and spread. We’ve reached the point where patients are dying of infections in hospitals that we have no antibiotics to treat.” Studies show the cost of HAIs can range from $28 billion to $45 billion per year. The CDC estimates HAIs affect 2 million Americans annually, resulting in 90,000 deaths.

These sobering facts reinforce why it’s vital to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to preventative healthcare for Veterans. There are commercially proven solutions that can help including software decision support tools that provide real-time electronic clinical surveillance for antimicrobial stewardship and infectious disease. These systems can significantly reduce hospital costs associated with preventable HAIs, adverse drug events, unnecessary hospital days of stay, readmissions and the ineffective overuse of antibiotics.

Published studies have been conducted at the San Antonio VA Medical Center, along with commercial hospitals, capturing return on investment (ROI) with the addition of these tools:

  • A 63 percent reduction in pharmacist time spent coordinating data for patient care treatment interventions
  • 23 percent greater prevention of Adverse Drug Events
  • 32 percent fewer antibiotics prescribed inappropriately
  • A reduction in the median length of hospital stay by 2.2 days

Simply adding staff to VA Medical Centers will not address the goal of decreasing statistical numbers of antibiotic resistant and healthcare associated infections. In order to best service Veterans, clinicians need a system that delivers predictive information for identifying at-risk patients, so that preventative medicine can be practiced.

Studies in the commercial sector show an estimated savings of $2.47 million per year per hospital due to reduced lengths of patient stays, readmissions, and reduced pharmaceutical costs. This would translate to a savings to the VA of $3.75 billion over ten years if implemented enterprise-wide.

VA hospitals should have access to this important patient safety and compliance tool, when it clearly pays for itself and delivers significant hospital savings in a short period of time.

About The Author

Diane Ratner is an RN with a Master’s degree in Health Informatics working for Document Storage Systems (DSS) as a Senior Product Line Manager, where she is also a subject-matter expert with regards to the innovative TheraDoc solution.