Sharp drop in patient safety, infection control amid pandemic: 3 new findings

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, metrics tracking healthcare-associated infections and other complications of care indicate significant deterioration of multiple patient safety measures, according to an analysis published Feb. 12 by The New England Journal of Medicine.

The healthcare industry has struggled to understand exactly how patient safety and care quality have been affected amid the pandemic, with national data often lagging by several quarters to a year. The first hint came in September 2021, when the CDC published a report that found healthcare-associated infections increased significantly in 2020 after years of steady decline. 

Now, multiple studies cited by The New England Journal of Medicine offer a clearer picture of the pandemic's impact on patient safety and infection control — and it's not pretty. 

There are numerous potential explanations for the increase in adverse events, according to the analysis authors, including but not limited to vast numbers of very ill patients, staff burnout and shortages, and supply chain disruptions.

Below are three new findings: 

1. Central-line associated bloodstream infections in U.S. hospitals increased 28 percent in the second quarter of 2020, compared to the second quarter of 2019, according to CDC data. In the five years preceding the pandemic, central-line associated bloodstream infections had decreased by 31 percent. 

2. A study of 148 HCA Healthcare-affiliated hospitals through 2020 found central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteremia all increased as the COVID-19 burden increased. 

Here are increases for the following infections over seven months of 2020: 

Central line-associated bloodstream infections: 60 percent increase

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus: 44 percent increase

Catheter-associated urinary tract infections: 43 percent increase

3. Rates of hospital-onset bloodstream infections and multidrug resistant organisms, vancomycin-resistant enterococcus and Gram-negative organisms were each significantly associated with COVID-19 surges, the study found. 

There are numerous potential explanations for the increases in adverse events, including but not limited to, vast numbers of very ill patients, staff burnout and shortages, and supply chain disruptions.


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