Infections are among the scariest possibility whenever we go into the hospital, especially for any type of surgery. The good news is that since 2008 the national rates of certain hospital infections have declined significantly. We cancer survivors are more vulnerable to infection since many of our treatments including chemotherapy temporarily suppress our immune systems.

Despite this decline it is always good to check out infection rates at a hospital you are considering going into. This is actually very easy to do by checking the CDC infection tracking system through the federal website Hospital Compare .

Lisa McGiffert, from Consumer’s Union Safe Patient Project, says current results from the CDC provide alimited but useful snapshot because only some infections are publicly reported. “This is still just the tip of the iceberg…..but it is an indicator of the hospital’s record.” says McGiffert.

Make sure hospital clinicians are washing their hands, and don’t accept that an infection is “part of the deal” when it comes to hospital treatment.

“Infections may not be among the most pressing worries of cancer patients,” says John Birkmeyer, who directs the Center for Healthcare Outcomes and Policy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He said that “Whether I get a wound infection is not what I’m worried about. I’m worried about whether I get discharged alive, and whether I’m going to be cured of my cancer,”

According to Birkmeyer research hasn’t found any link between infections and these bottom-line outcomes. The federal disease center’s national analysis, published in February 2013 identified the greatest decline in central line-associated bloodstream infections, down by 41 percent since 2008. Surgery-related infections, as well as urinary tract infections linked to catheter use have also decreased—by 17 percent and 7 percent, respectively. The findings are based on 2011 reporting by more than 11,500 facilities to the CDC’s infection tracking system, called the National Healthcare Safety Network.

Additional hospital data will soon be released in late 2013 or early 2014. This past January, hospitals began to report two additional infections, Clostridium difficile and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to the CDC.

The Hospital Compare website provides data on the numbers of infections at each hospital, as well as how they compare to state and national benchmarks, using a number called the Standardized Infection Ratio. The closer that figure is to zero, the better the hospital’s record.

What is really important for you to know is how you can reduce your personal vulnerability to an infection? Always make sure that the hospital clinicians are washing their hands between each patient and before they examine you and start any procedure. There is no reason you should ever accept that an infection is “part of the deal” when it comes to hospital treatment.
Given the situation you should get into the habit of asking your doctor ‘What are you going to do to eliminate the risk for me?’

Also see: 2011 National and State Healthcare-associated Infections Standardized Infection Ratio Report

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.