Hospital Infections Affect 1 In 25 Patients, And Bizarrely Enough, This Is Progress

A new CDC study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that one in 25 patients is infected while visiting the hospital, based on data from 2011. The research determined that approximately 721,800 people got infections while at the hospital that year, and of them, about 75,000 died. The study didn't examine the cause of deaths of those people, however, so it's not clear how often the infections were specifically the fatal element.

Of course, this sounds like bad news, but here's the wild thing: this is an improvement on past figures. In 2002, the number of in-hospital infections in the U.S. hovered around 1.7 million. Over 150,000 of those people died, and in that case the data is more clear — about 98,000 of them were specifically caused or contributed to by the infection.

Initiatives to improve these upsetting figure don't have to be complicated or costly. Requiring the adoption of a basic list of safety steps, for example, seems to have had a big effect on blood infections through central lines, which dropped 44 percent from 2008 to 2012.

According to Dr. Michael Bell, deputy director of the CDC's division of health care quality promotion, things are indeed heading in the right direction. Mostly.

There are some excellent places that are doing a bang-up job, and I would love to receive my care there. Also within every facility type there are places that give me great concern. It can be related to staffing and resources; it could be related to the way things get done.

Perhaps the most proactive advice, however, is that of Dr. Peter Pronovost director of Johns Hopkins' Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality. He told CNN that prospective patients should inform themselves about their hospital's infection history — particularly of those in the bloodstream.

These ICU bloodstream infections are often a 'canary in the coal mine' measure. In other words, if a hospital gets its act together to focus on safety and gets these down, it's a good marker that they're working collaboratively, even if you're not in the ICU. ... There's no accountability for a hospital that has very high infection rates, and my sense is, there absolutely needs to be.