Study leader Dr. Bradford D. Harris -- who conducted the research while at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and is now a medical officer at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in Washington -- says one of every 20 U.S. hospital patients has a hospital-acquired infection.
An estimated 99,000 patients die each year from hospital-acquired infections and such infections cost $33 billion extra in medical expenses because of longer hospital stays.
The study tested three interventions aimed at preventing hospital-acquired infections.
The first intervention was strict enforcement of standard hand hygiene practices on the unit -- everyone is expected to wash hands with soap and running water or an alcohol-based rub on entering and leaving a patient's room, before putting on and after removing gloves, and before and after any task that involves touching potentially contaminated surfaces or body fluids.
The second intervention involved several measures aimed at preventing ventilator-associated pneumonia such as elevating the head of the patient's bed while receiving breathing assistance from a ventilator.
The third intervention ensures compliance with guidelines for the use and maintenance of central-line catheters such as using catheters impregnated with antibiotics whenever possible.
The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, showed patients admitted after these interventions were fully implemented left the hospital an average two days earlier, hospital costs were $12,000 less and the number of patient deaths dropped by 2 percentage points.