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

HHS report to Congress: Infection prevention a high priority in national health care strategy

Preventing health care associated infections (HAIs) has emerged as a top priority in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Strategy for Quality Improvement in Health Care (National Quality Strategy).

The March 21, 2011 report to Congress was called for under the Affordable Care Act. According to the HHS, it is the first effort to create national aims and priorities to guide local, state, and national efforts to improve the quality of health care in the United States.

Infection prevention was cited as a national priority, with HHS emphasizing that HAIs “harm millions of American patients each year and needlessly add billions of dollars to health care costs”. The report notes that at least 1.7 million HAIs occur each year and lead to 99,000 deaths.

“Health care providers should be relentless in their efforts to reduce the risk for injury from care, aiming for zero harm whenever possible and striving to create a system that reliably provides high-quality health care for everyone,” the HHS report states. “This isn’t easy. Such a system requires, for example, the design of standard operating procedures, a workforce with diverse yet complementary skills, workloads that allow enough time for errors to be corrected or mitigated and leadership that promotes continuous improvement. But this kind of system can also make a big difference in improving care, whether it’s by preventing serious medication events or eliminating healthcare associated infections and other preventable conditions.”

Dramatic reductions in central line associated blood stream infections (CLABSIs) were cited by the HHS as an example of such infection prevention approaches. That underscores the growing national perception that CLABSIs – which have mortality rates in the 12% to 25% range – are preventable and should be prevented. The central line infections were decreased by 58% in intensive care unit patients from 2001 to 2009 in national surveillance data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.