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This award-winning blog supplements the articles in Hospital Infection Control & Prevention.

Blood money: Hospitals reap tremendous profit through bloodstream infections

A few months back in this space we reported an unusually frank assessment from a CDC epidemiologist, who warned that due to “perverse incentives” in the U.S. health care system hospitals do not always lose money on nosocomial infections. Forget breaking even, now we have a study showing that at least certain types of infections are actually profitable for hospitals -- creating a profound disincentive for infection prevention and patient safety.

Johns Hopkins researchers reported that hospitals may be reaping enormous income for patients whose hospital stays are complicated by preventable bloodstream infections contracted in their intensive care units. In particular, the researchers found hospital profit in ICU patients who develop central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), which costs nearly three times more to care for than a similar infection-free patient. Yet hospitals earn nearly nine times more for treating these CLABSI patients, who spend an average of 24 days in the hospital. The researchers also found that private insurers, rather than Medicare and Medicaid, pay the most for patient stays complicated by CLABSIs — roughly $400,000 per hospital stay.

“We have known that hospitals often profit from complications, even ones of their own making,” says Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD, senior vice president for patient safety at Johns Hopkins and one of the authors of the research. “What we did not know was by how much, and that private insurers are largely footing the bill.”

For more on this important story see the July issue of Hospital Infection Control & Prevention