When you go to the hospital, you expect that being there will help you regain your health. What you probably aren’t anticipating, though, is that the hospital could make you even sicker. Unfortunately, that’s the outcome facing thousands of Americans every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) account for an estimated 1.7 million infections and 98,000 deaths each year.
HAIs occur in all care settings, from hospitals to clinics, and can affect all patients. That said, some patients (including older adults and young children) are more likely to contract an HAI.
While visiting a hospital does not mean you’re destined to contract an HAI, there is always a risk.
Fortunately, you can reduce that risk by taking preventative action and practicing proper vigilance. If you or a loved one are in the hospital, these four steps can help you remain on the road to renewed health:
Washing your hands frequently is one of the best ways to prevent illness, and it’s particularly essential in the hospital. As a patient, you should wash your hands whenever possible, especially after being in the hallways or interacting with staff. You’ll also want to require anyone who enters your room to wash their hands. If you aren’t well enough to make this request yourself, ask a family member to do so on your behalf.
Though anyone can get an HAI, some patients are more vulnerable. There are also specific treatments that can increase your risk.
In particular, patients who have a central line, a catheter, or a ventilator are more likely to get such an infection. Open wounds and surgical sites can also increase your risk, as incisions provide an easy place for bacteria to enter the body. Today, 32% of all healthcare-acquired infections are urinary tract infections, while 22% are surgical site infections.
If you have any of these risk factors, seek to understand the sterile protocol, and ensure that staff follows such protocols. Because sterile protocol is an established norm of medical care, medical personnel who fail to uphold such practices may be subject to medical malpractice claims.
Medical malpractice doesn’t have to be intentional. Instead, it can boil down to negligence, which puts a patient’s life at risk.
Today, many infections are transmitted through the air. This means that, even if you’re not sneezing or coughing, wearing a mask can still be a good idea. Asking visitors to do so can also be beneficial. Many people think nothing of visiting the hospital with a mild cold or cough, even though the practice places immunocompromised patients at risk. You can’t stop other people’s visitors from bringing their germs into the hospital, but you can protect yourself from them.
When it comes to HAIs, all facilities are not created equal. In fact, some facilities have higher infection rates than their counterparts. The best way to avoid getting sick is to avoid these facilities. With this in mind, set aside some time to research the hospitals in your area. Find out which ones rate well on infection prevention and prioritize those when seeking treatment.
Though doctors and nurses should lead the way when it comes to infection prevention, advocating for yourself is critical. Hospitalization comes with some inherent risks, but your treatment shouldn’t be more dangerous than the illness that brought you in, to begin with.