Spike in HAIs should 'stop hospitals in their tracks': Leapfrog

Data released as part of The Leapfrog Group's annual hospital rankings — which analyzed data from late 2021 and into 2022 — revealed a significant rise in healthcare-associated infections — a trend that was in decline prior to the pandemic.

HAIs with the largest increase were central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — all of which showed rates that were the highest in five years, according to a press release shared with Becker's.  

The Leapfrog Group measured this using the standardized infection ratio, which compares the number of HAIs at each hospital to the predicted number of infections.

"The dramatic spike in HAIs reported in this Safety Grade cycle should stop hospitals in their tracks — infections like these can be life or death for some patients," Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, said in the release. "We recognize the tremendous strain the pandemic put on hospitals and their workforce, but alarming findings like these indicate hospitals must recommit to patient safety and build more resilience."

But if technology and medicine are advancing more and more each year, why are HAIs increasing? According to the data, hospital responses to the pandemic led to a "decline in patient safety and HAI management." 

Practices to mitigate HAIs were prevalent before the pandemic began, but priorities were shifted when the larger focus became how to navigate COVID-19, so some of the basic best practices — like hand hygiene, isolation techniques or proper central-line care — fell by the wayside, Connie Steed, MSN, RN, infection prevention consultant and former director of infection prevention at Prisma Health in Greenville, S.C., and the former president of the Association of Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, told Becker's.

"During COVID-19 we lost some success in reducing HAIs, related to developing standards of practice or care bundles," Ms. Steed said.

Technologies like virtual reality training, electronic monitoring systems and UV disinfection can and are being used more widely to help curb the rise of HAIs, she noted. Other methods to reduce HAIs, like universal nasal decolonization to reduce methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are also being used and further developed. However, completely rebounding from the pandemic will still take some time, she explained.

In the interim, hospitals should prioritize creating an actionable plan to address this and communicate it clearly while being sure to monitor and adjust for continual improvement, Ms. Steed said.

"I think it's important to establish clear protocols and procedures and monitor best practices to sustain them after they are implemented," she said. "A lot of times we put things in place, but [we] don't worry about providers understanding the training or monitoring actual behavior. As you monitor, you can feed that information back to the provider, so they know what to improve on. One issue is we have a lot of turnover in front-line staff — you've implemented a change to improve care, but when do the new employees get the training? There are a lot of gaps in ongoing education to ensure everyone understands best practices."

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