Collaboration between Pathologists, Medical Laboratories, and Hospital Staff Substantially Reduced Hospital-Acquired Infections, AHRQ Reports
Decline in hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) overall since 2010 attributed to increased attention to safety protocols and practices by hospital staff in cooperation with clinical laboratory services
It’s now been almost nine years since the Medicare Program stopped paying hospitals and other providers for certain hospital-acquired conditions (HACs). Included in this list are hospital-acquired infections (HAIs). The goal is to substantially reduce the number of HACs and HAIs, thus improving patient outcomes, while substantially reducing the healthcare costs associated with these conditions.
So, almost nine years into these programs, has there been progress on these goals? This is a question of key interest to Medical laboratories and pathology groups because they have a front-line role in working with clinicians to diagnose and treat HAIs, while also looking to identify the transmission of HAIs within the hospital.
A recent report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), indicates that there has been progress in the goal of reducing HACs. The AHRQ report noted a 21% decline in HACs between 2010 and 2015. Data collected during that time indicates a reduction of more than 3.1 million HACs and nearly 125,000 patient deaths due to HACs.
In 2015 alone, nearly one million fewer HAC incidents occurred. The reduction saved “approximately $28 billion in healthcare costs,” an outcome which, the AHRQ report notes, is the result of increased attention to safety protocols in hospitals and a “period of concerted effort by hospitals throughout the country to reduce adverse events.”
Clinical Pathologists/Laboratories Play Key Role in HAI Prevention
Though many reported incidents are associated with adverse drug events, HAIs have been significantly reduced in recent years due to focused efforts on infection prevention. The report notes that clinical pathologists have become vital players in infection prevention programs, and that increased coordination between hospital medical laboratories and clinicians played a crucial role in the reduction.
Eileen O’Rourke is an Infection Preventionist at the Lankenau Medical Center in Philadelphia. And she has served as a leader and consultant for hospital-based infection prevention programs in Pennsylvania since 1984. In an article on the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy OneSource blog, O’Rourke noted that successful infection prevention and control requires development of “a highly visible and administratively supported infection prevention and control program with qualified and trained personnel.” Clinical pathologists are part of that support team, providing surveillance, testing, and interpretation of data essential for identifying epidemiological origins of infection and pathogen distribution. And the vital services that clinical laboratories provide to reduce HAIs center on surveillance, prevention, and control.
In an article for Lab Testing Matters, John Daly MD, Chief Medical Officer at the Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation, and former Director of Clinical Laboratories for the Duke University Health System, highlights the importance of surveillance. He states that it is “an essential element of an infection control program” providing “data to identify infected patients and determine the site of infection” as well as “factors that contributed to the infection.” Medical laboratories must, Daly stresses, provide “easy access to high-quality and timely data and give guidance and support on how to use its resources for epidemiologic purposes.”
Daly argues that medical laboratories function as liaisons to clinical services, working to “improve the quality of specimens sent to the laboratory and promoting appropriate use of cultures and other laboratory tests.” The laboratory should, according to Daly, be involved in all aspects of the infection control programs. This ensures:
- Proper specimen collection;
- Accurate and rapid testing; and
- Accurate reporting of laboratory data.
Laboratory Data Provide ‘Early Warning’ for HAI Surveillance Systems
Robert A. Weinstein, MD, wrote in his 1978 article, “The Role of the Microbiology Laboratory in Surveillance and Control of Nosocomial Infections,” that medical laboratories and pathologists are central to prevention and control of HAIs. Laboratory records, Weinstein remarked, serve as important data sources that can identify early spread of infection, thus becoming an “early warning system” for a potential outbreak of infections. The sampling that laboratories perform identifies not only the strain of infection, but the method by which infection is spread, and the best treatment options. Nearly 40 years later his statements ring truer than ever, as anatomic pathology laboratory data continues to reveal patterns of infection faster and more precisely than ever before.
Sarah Mahoney, PhD, is a research scientist at Navitor Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. In an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, she states that in surveilling patterns of infection, pathologists also decipher the source of infection. Mahoney wrote that it is “necessary to identify the causative organism” for surveillance and management control of HAIs. She also noted that pathologists must strive to discriminate between “hospital- and community-acquired infection” in order to provide clinicians with guidance for treatment, and to map “infection transmission within a clinical setting.”
Hospitals Rely on Medical Laboratories and Pathologists to Help Reduce HAIs
The concerted effort to reduce HACs and HAIs was inspired by incentives put forth by the US government. In 2008-2009, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) ceased paying for hospital-acquired conditions, including HAIs. Since that time, hospitals have worked to prevent and better manage HAIs. In the years since those incentives went into effect, hospitals have increasingly relied on medical laboratories and pathologists to provide necessary testing to prevent HAIs.
The CDC’s Antimicrobial Stewardship Programs create a further need for lab professionals to be involved in the identification, prevention, and treatment of HAIs. The core elements of the program state that the role of diagnostic laboratory testing—especially rapid diagnostic tests—is imperative in providing the necessary data needed to combat HAIs. The pressure is on for hospitals to reduce HAIs further to save lives and reduce costs. Thus, there is increased pressure on medical laboratories as well.
In an article in the College of American Pathologists’ online journal Cap Today,
Larry Massie, MD, Professor of Pathology at the University of New Mexico, and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine for the New Mexico VA Health Care System in Albuquerque, states that turn-around time is crucial for HAIs, but that laboratories often have difficulty keeping up with large volumes of samples. Massie suggests the use of new technologies could speed up turnaround time, particular for large healthcare providers.
The fight to reduce HAIs and HACs is showing significant progress, and clinical laboratories, working in tandem with clinicians and prevention programs, are a fundamental part of the success of HAI reduction. Clinical pathologists and laboratories often are the front line in prevention and management of HAIs, and the work they do in identifying infections is essential in the assessment and control of those infections.
— Amanda Warren