The Real Cost of HAIs: The Patients

By Chris Hermann

Mary Millard & Her HusbandHospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a looming cost and major problem for hospitals worldwide. In the increasingly competitive reality facing acute care hospitals in the United States, it’s very easy to get swept up in fees and ROI and lose focus on the more important costs to the patients.

After our recent post talking about the hidden costs associated with HAIs, HAI survivor Mary Millard very appropriately pointed out that the costs associated with HAIs extend beyond the hospital and have an even larger impact on patients.

I would encourage you to read her story here. We have worked with Mary to help highlight some of the costs associated with HAIs. Here is a small excerpt from her story:

“Personally, since the fall of 2014, I have undergone 89 X-rays, 20 CT scans, and 4 more procedures. This is in addition to monthly blood draws and cultures, as well as 16 visits to the hospital. Thanks to a hospital-acquired infection, this is what life has turned into. In addition to costs to the healthcare system of preventable HAIs, there’s a real cost – financial as well as quality of life – to the survivors.”

The costs that Mary and other patients absorb can include:

  1. Cost of medication and supplements

Depending on your insurance (or lack thereof), you may have out of pocket costs for expensive antibiotics, as well as over the counter medications such as probiotics and mineral supplements to try to maintain a healthy gut bacteria level. These costs can easily extend beyond antibiotics when infections harm other organ systems.

2. Extra insurance costs

Depending on your insurance, patients can have annual deductibles that commonly exceed $10,000, along with copays or coinsurance. If you have multiple doctor visits in a month, that can add up. When you had the original procedure, all you expected to pay was that specific cost, but now there are many more, unexpected expenses. While hospitals typically absorb the costs associated with the initial HAI, patients have to cover the long term medical costs associated with their infection.

3. Transportation expenses

A patient who lives with a chronic infection (or long term infection-related complications) gets re-hospitalized a number of times in a year. Due to the complexity of the patient’s complications, they’re usually treated at tertiary referral medical centers. Commonly, these visits require multi-hour drives and staying in hotels. When you tack on the cost of meals, transportation, caring for dependents, time away from work, etc., the costs balloon quickly. These charges are not covered by most insurance plans and, unlike medical bills, have to be paid immediately.

4. Stress and toll on caregivers

Most patients who go home with a chronic infection or complications associated with HAIs need a great deal of aftercare, and that usually falls on family members (if you’re not put into an assisted living home for a while). Infections, especially when they lead to sepsis or prolonged immobilization, seriously weaken your muscles. Patients typically need assistance with daily activities and recovering. They may also have been given a round of home infusions, going home with specialized IVs for months, and require additional home care. Caregivers may have to take time off from work or go through the expense of hiring home health assistants.

5. Disability

HAIs can cause chronic disability due to either a chronic infection or by damaging other organ system. It is likely that you will not be able to work again. This not only makes you feel unproductive, but if you’re the primary breadwinner, this can put your family in dire straits. Disability payments take years to get, and in most cases, don’t come close to covering lost income.

Most people, including healthcare providers, think of infections as temporary that, once given antibiotics, disappear. In Mary’s situation, like millions of other patients, her infection will never go away, and antibiotics can’t cure it.

Mary, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to share your experience, perspective, and story. In a world where more and more healthcare decisions are being made based on a spreadsheet, it is critically important for us to remember why we all work as hard as we do – the patients.

Mary is a public speaker on sepsis and living with a chronic hospital infection. She lives in the United States and advocates for research and funding on superbugs. You can follow Mary on her blog, on LinkedIn, or Twitter at @HAISurvivor

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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