Survey: Hospitals failing to stop spread of ‘superbugs’

WASHINGTON — Twice as many people die of infections they catch in the hospital than die in car crashes, and hospitals in the D.C. area are no better than the nationwide average in keeping patients safe from so-called superbugs.

Those are the conclusions from Consumer Reports’ annual rankings of more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide, which have been expanded this year to include a look at how they protect patients against the common and potentially deadly infections MRSA and C. diff.

No hospital in the D.C. area ranked better than average overall in avoiding infections, Consumer Reports says.

Of the large (300 or more beds) hospitals in the region, the best were ranked as average. Those hospitals include the following:

  • Inova Fairfax Hospital;
  • MedStar Georgetown University Hospital;
  • MedStar Washington Hospital;
  • Providence Hospital;
  • United Medical Center;
  • Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington.

The rest ranked below average overall; a few hospitals ranked well in individual categories, but Consumer Reports said there weren’t enough patients to be statistically significant.

Consumer Reports statistics on hospital infections in the DC area

Consumer Reports says that according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 648,000 people in the U.S. get infections in the hospital, and about 75,000 die. That includes 60,000 and 290,000 patients who contract MRSA and C. diff, respectively, of whom 8,000 and 27,000 die.

“Hospitals can be hot spots for infections and can sometimes amplify spread,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tells Consumer Reports.

“We’ve reached the point where patients are dying of infections in hospitals that we have no antibiotics to treat,” says Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, who is in charge of the CDC’s efforts against the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

Doris Peter, the director of Consumer Reports’ Health Ratings Center, tells WTOP that only 6 percent of hospitals nationwide received one of the two highest rankings in avoiding MRSA and C. diff infections, which she calls in the report “a red flag that a hospital isn’t following the best practices in preventing infections and prescribing antibiotics.”

She adds that even hospitals with good reputations, such as Johns Hopkins, in Baltimore, didn’t fare very well.

“We were focusing very narrowly on performance on these particular infections. It is purely based on data that has been reported to the government — it is not based on reputation,” Peter says.

Consumer Reports suggests that hospital patients need to question the use of antibiotics — their overprescription is a prime factor in the spread of these so-called “superbugs” — as well as heartburn drugs, which can suppress the acid that keeps bugs in check. They also say you should insist on inspecting your hospital room and demand it be clean, and even bring your own wipes for bed rails, doorknobs and other surfaces.

Other tips include asking every day whether any tubes can be removed, and requesting the use of an electronic device rather than a regular razor if you need to be shaved.

Hospitals are reportedly beginning to discharge patients sooner than they otherwise would, on the grounds that it keeps them safer from possible infections, and Peter says it’s a sound principle.

“The longer you are there, the more likely you will pick something up. So stay out or get out early.”

WTOP’s Paula Wolfson contributed to this report.

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