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Zero Hospital-Acquired Infections? Believe It.

Analysis  |  By Philip Betbeze  
   July 13, 2017

Convincing clinicians that getting to zero infections is possible, says one CQO. It requires a culture change, adherence to evidence-based practice, and leadership.

Danielle Scheurer, MD, believes that the plague of hospital-acquired infections and other patient harm is within clinicians' power to cure. Infections, no matter how small the ratio to the number of surgical interventions, are not simply part and parcel of surgery, she contends.

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If that belief does not permeate among clinicians involved in surgery, it's tough to make headway on the national scourge of avoidable patient harm—a reality made frighteningly mainstream with the publication of the report, To Err Is Human, by the Institute of Medicine, way back in 1999.

Convincing is Half the Battle

Scheurer is a hospitalist and chief quality officer at the Medical University of South Carolina, where she is also an associate professor of medicine.

She says big progress can be made in infection control, especially where surgery is concerned, from convincing clinicians that getting to zero infections is possible.

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"I'm not sure a lot of people even believed that was true as short as 10 years ago," she says.

But now, there is at least proof of concept that if evidence-based practices are applied consistently, it is possible to achieve zero harm—or come extraordinarily close.

Among others, both Memorial Hermann and Cincinnati Children's hospitals have both proven that near-zero harm is possible, but to achieve those results, the board and clinicians had to believe it was possible.

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"Before you do anything else, make sure your care team members believe that's true," says Scheurer. "You can't get rigorous practice without variability until everyone believes."

On its face, that's a strange concept—the idea that belief is a critical component of something being possible. But belief presages action, and action is certainly critical to limiting harm, from infection to surgical site errors—to near zero levels.

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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