About Amy Umble:
Amy Umble is health reporter for The Free Lance-Star

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Perfection as the benchmark

Central lineA new report from the Virginia Department of Health says that the risk that a patient will acquire an infection while in the intensive care unit at Mary Washington Hospital is a little lower this year, compared to last.

The update, published in June, is part of an ongoing national effort to focus on hospital-acquired infections, and because of the exposure, to reduce their numbers.

The Health Department began collecting data last July from 76 Virginia hospitals. The data show how often adult patients with central lines acquired infections while in the ICU.

Last year, from July through December, Mary Washington had five infections. This year, from January through March, Mary Washington had two infections.The state calculates a rate to allow for comparisons over time. It does this by dividing the number of infections by the number days that central lines were in place in patients, or central line days. Mary Washington’s rate per 1,000 central line days was 2.3 last year. So far this year, it’s been 1.35.

A central line is a tube that’s inserted in a patient, often near the heart, to give fluids or medications. The site can become infected causing a serious illness. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hospital-acquired infections account for 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths each year.

The Health Department publishes the data for all hospitals that have ICUs, though it cautions that comparisons between hospitals may not be valid. That’s because some hospitals treat sicker patients with a greater risk of infection.

Even so, you can’t help but be impressed by some of the bigger, busier hospital systems like Centra Health in Lynchburg which had no infections this year. Lewis-Gale in Roanoke, Riverside in Newport News and Sentara in Norfolk had either zero or one infection.

As Lucian Leape, patient safety advocate, said, “It is now apparent that we can use perfection as a benchmark.”   

The state reports can be found here.