Hospital acquired infections are rare, but they can present serious complications. In the United States, approximately 5% of patients treated at a hospital end up with an infection acquired as the result of their medical treatment.
Causes of Hospital Acquired Infections
Hospital acquired infections can have several different causes. The most common are:
- Unsanitary behaviors by hospital staff such as improper hand washing or sterilization of equipment
- Contaminated catheters leading to urinary infections
- Bloodstream infections following surgery
- Bloodstream infections from tubes placed on the neck, chest, or groin to drain fluids, administer medication, or collect blood
Hospital acquired infections vary widely in severity. In some cases, a patient makes a full recovery after being treated with antibiotics. In other cases, infections are fatal. Of the over 2 million patients who experience a hospital acquired infection in the United States each year, approximately 100,000 will die.
The riskiness of the patient's treatment bears no relation to the risk of experiencing a hospital acquired infection. Even patients admitted with minor healthcare concerns have experienced severe complications due to hospital acquired infections.
Initially, doctors believed that infection was a risk patients must assume whenever they seek medical treatment. Although it's unlikely hospital acquired infections can be eliminated entirely, there are actually many steps that can be taken to keep patients safe. These include:
- Using clippers instead of a razor to shave the surgical site
- Changing IVs periodically after surgery
- Using a central line catheter with an antibiotic or protective coating
- Requiring everyone entering a patient's room, even family and friends, to wash their hands
- Preventing people with contagious infections from visiting patients
- Keeping patients with infections in an isolated area and requiring all treating personnel to wear gloves, a gown, and a mask
- Monitoring white blood cell counts for signs of infection and beginning treatment as soon as possible
Statistics indicate that these procedures have been helpful in reducing the risk of hospital acquired infections. For example, there was a 50% decrease in central line associated bloodstream infections (CLABSI) and a 17 % decrease in surgical site infections (SSI) between 2008 and 2014.
Sometimes, an infection is simply an unfortunate complication that couldn't have been foreseen or prevented. However, many cases of hospital acquired infections do qualify as medical malpractice.
A successful malpractice claim must prove four key elements:
- Duty. The hospital owed a duty of care to the patient.
- Breach of Duty. The hospital failed to adequately care for the patient.
- Damages. The patient experienced damages as the result of the hospital's conduct.
- Causation. There is proven to be a direct cause and effect relationship between the patient's condition and the hospital’s conduct.
When determining if the hospital was negligent in its treatment of an infected patient, questions to consider include:
- Were proper sterilization procedures followed before, during, and after the patient's treatment?
- Does the hospital have a formal plan to minimize infection risk such as administering a pre-surgical test for staphylococcus aureus and having patients shower with 4% chlorhexidine soap before a procedure?
- Did hospital staff follow all applicable infection reduction procedures?
- Did the doctor appropriately monitor the use and distribution of antibiotics?
- Could some other illness or medical condition explain the patient's infection?
If the hospital is found guilty of malpractice, patients can receive compensation for:
- Past medical expenses
- Future medical expenses
- Lost wages during recovery
- Applicable loss of future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
Seeking the assistance of an experienced attorney is vital to the success of any malpractice case. Hospitals have access to top-quality legal representation to handle their malpractice claims. Without someone to advocate for your needs, you risk having your claim denied or receiving a settlement that's inadequate for the severity of your injuries.
The legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault are committed to helping Louisiana residents receive fair and prompt compensation for their malpractice claims. To learn more, please call to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation at one of our six convenient office locations.