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Financial Incentives for Preventing HAIs Don't Add Up to Much

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, September 5, 2013

A major teaching hospital's move to provide a financial rationale for preventing healthcare-acquired infections points to the dearth of meaningful incentives for hospitals to work harder toward the goal of improved patient safety.

The idea that hospital leaders would require financial justification before beefing up their efforts to prevent healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) would seem like a brazen insult. Surely concern for patient safety would be motivation enough.

But that was indeed the rationale behind a project launched by Eyal Zimlichman, MD and David Bates, MD, and others with the Center for Patient Safety Research and Practice at Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital about three years ago.

"A member of our executive committee is Charles Denham," the well known healthcare and technology solutions expert whose patient safety CV seems to go on for days, Zimlichman explains. "Denham was discussing the idea that we needed to start putting some numbers out there, cost estimates, so that providers, specifically hospitals, would understand there's a need from a financial point of view to try to reduce HAIs."

That they thought it essential to provide hospitals with an ROI rationale to prevent HAIs points to the dearth of other meaningful incentives for hospitals to take HAI prevention seriously.

Indeed, the opposite is true, as explained in a May report by Johns Hopkins infection expert Peter Pronovost, MD. The study found that hospitals make exorbitant profits from infections, especially when health plans rather than the government are paying the bill, and there is little financial incentive to work harder to prevent them.

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