The Health Care Encounter
“Don’t touch me!” That’s probably what George should have said to his doctor but he didn’t. Most patients don’t. I was in George’s room to assist with the completion of a health care power of attorney document. George was in isolation due to an infection. Anyone could tell he was in isolation as a result of the “big” sign outside of his room that alerted all those who entered of the proper precautions. The precautions included putting on a hospital gown and wearing protective gloves.
The gloves and hospital gown that I had on did not interfere with my conversation with George. What stopped us was George’s physician who came into the room to join the conversation without his gloves or gown. George’s doctor preceded to touch everything including the patient, bedrail and my nerve!
Yes, I understand that physicians can be very busy. The problem is that bacteria and germs do not care who they attach themselves to. My thought immediately turned to “who” was the unsuspecting patient he would see next?
Health Care Consumers at Risk
“Gowning and gloving” as they call it in the hospital is time consuming but essential to stop the spread of infection. Health care acquired infections kill as many as 90,000 people annually in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 1.9 million people nationwide who develop such infections endure longer stays in the hospital. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of all hospital patients develop infections.
More Americans die each year from hospital acquired infections than from auto accidents and homicides combined. Even though the problem is well documented, the risks of getting a hospital infection have steadily increased.
The good news is that health care facilities can reduce infection rates significantly by proper implementation of infection control practices, especially hand washing. Unfortunately, many hospitals have not done so. According to the National Quality Forum, most studies report hand washing compliance rates that are generally less than 50 percent.
With these frightening statistics in mind, here are several action steps that an empowered health care consumer can do to decrease the likelihood of a hospital acquired infection.
o Use anti-bacterial wipes to clean the telephone, TV remote and bedrails. Studies show that many patients’ rooms are contaminated with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococci).
o Request that all hospital staff wash their hands or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before touching you.
o Wash your hands frequently.
o Be sure that all intravenous tubes and catheters are inserted under sterile conditions.
o Choose a surgeon with a low infection rate.
o Ask your doctor if you need to take an antibiotic prior to surgery.
The Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths http://www.hospitalinfection.org offers a comprehensive guide to reduce your risk of acquiring a hospital infection. Arm yourself with as much information as possible. Remember, prevention works, and don’t be afraid to say, “don’t touch me!”