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The Hidden Costs of HAIs

By Chris Hermann

Healthcare-associated infections are expensive, not even counting the tremendous human suffering they create. There are obvious, direct costs such as reimbursement and readmission penalties, along with the danger of getting on the HAC list. (Related: read about the easiest way to get off the HAC list here.)

But there are hidden, indirect costs of HAIs as well. Length of stay and operational throughput. Additional clinician time required to gown and glove. Employee health and absenteeism. And even the costs of using precious staff time to perform Direct Observation. (Related: read about problems with Direct Observation here and here.)

Length of stay for an unreimbursed HAI is a problem, particularly when so many hospitals are at 99% capacity. We’ve estimated that, in a 100 bed hospital, 97 additional days are required for patients with HAIs. If HAIs are reduced by 45% (which is the mean result when hand hygiene is improved – more information here), 43 days would be saved annually. In a 2500 bed hospital, 7,055 additional days are required for patients with HAIs. Improved hand hygiene could save 3,175 of those days each year.

Clinicians obviously spend a great deal of time caring for patients with HAIs, which is factored into the “unreimbursed expenses” figure. But there’s a second, hidden impact of HAIs on staff time. For patients in isolation, it takes extra time to gown and glove. These brief time demands really add up over time, especially when you take into account the numbers of physicians, nurses, techs and therapists that are in and out of the rooms of these high-need patients.

We’ve estimated that, in a 100 bed hospital, 181 additional hours are required to put on PPE to care for patients with HAIs. If HAIs are reduced by 45%, 81 of these hours would be saved. In a 2500 bed hospital, 20,251 additional hours are required to gown and glove for HAI patients in isolation. If HAIs are reduced by 45%, 9,112 of these hours would be saved.

Finally, how many of your staff catch infections from patients, leading to absenteeism? With chronic nursing shortages, keeping nurses and other clinicians healthy and on the job is paramount. If patient HAIs are reduced, staff infections and illnesses will also decline.

If you’d like to explore how our system typically doubles hand hygiene performance rates and reduces HAIs by up to 75-80%, here’s a brief video about how it works. Or here’s a white paper on How the New Joint Commission Hand Hygiene Standards Could Impact Your Hospital.

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