U.S. hospitals are reducing bloodstream infections related to catheters by implementing rigorous safeguards that also save millions of health care dollars each year, according to a new study led by the Cedars–Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California.

The researchers studied data published during the last decade on catheter-related bloodstream infections at 113 hospitals. They found that safety interventions, on average, reduced the infection rate by 57% at these hospitals while producing net savings of $1.85 million for each site during three years. The savings came from reduced costs in treating infected patients.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, focused on central venous catheters, which are commonly used in intensive care units. More than 60,000 primary bloodstream infections related to these catheters are estimated to occur each year in the United States, with a fatality rate of 12% or more, according to recent studies.

To prevent these infections, hospitals have introduced new safety procedures. Checklists for attending staff include donning sterile gloves, covering catheters with antimicrobial dressings, and checking catheters daily for signs of movement or infection. Many hospitals also have invested in extra training, equipment, and supplies to improve safety.

The phasing in of these safeguards correlated with a 49% reduction nationally in the rate of catheter-related bloodstream infections from 2010 to 2013, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The new study showed that these safeguards, while adding to equipment and labor costs, ultimately reduced infections and saved money.

In the hospitals studied, the median cost of implementing catheter safety programs was approximately $270,000 per site. But for every $100,000 that a hospital spent, it realized an average $315,000 savings because it treated fewer infected patients, the investigators found. Although savings were lower in certain hospitals that already had low infection rates, adding new precautions still paid off for them.

Lead investigator Teryl Nuckols, MD, MSHS, said that the study supports the value of medical centers upgrading their safety procedures to prevent catheter infections.

“Due to the high cost of caring for patients when central-line infections develop, even sizable up-front investments in infection prevention can be associated with large net savings,” Nuckols said. “On the basis of our findings, hospitals that have not yet achieved very low rates of infection can consider implementing a variety of safety practices.”

Sources: Medical Xpress; January 9, 2017; and JAMA Internal Medicine; December 2016.

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