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Reductions in Blood Infections Shown to Slash Hospital Costs

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, August 24, 2011

Using a hospital safety checklist to reduce deadly bloodstream infections can save lives and produces a tenfold return on the cost of the program, a study from Johns Hopkins shows.

The study calculated that the reduction in bloodstream infections at intensive care units in hospitals across Michigan saved an average of $1.1 million a year.

"We already knew that the Michigan project saved lives and reduced infections," Peter J. Pronovost, MD, the lead author of the study and the director of Johns Hopkins' Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, said in a media release. "Now we know that by preventing infections, hospitals actually save money too."

The study showed that each central line-associated bloodstream infection in Michigan costs a hospital an average of $36,500 to treat. The patient safety program cost roughly $3,375 per infection averted between 2003 and 2005. The cost of putting the program in place -- mostly in devoted staff time -- was an average of $161,000 per hospital.

"It makes common sense that giving higher quality care would save you money, but before this, there was very little empirical evidence that it did," Pronovost said. "Now we have it."

Pronovost said his study does not show whether other quality improvement initiatives would yield similar financial benefit, but he said that some likely will.

Each year roughly 80,000 patients with central lines develop life-threatening infections. Of those, about 31,000 are estimated to die — nearly as many as die from breast cancer annually.

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