Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hospitals, Places Where You Go to Get Sick

It bugs me to have to visit someone in the hospital and, until recently, being bugged was a manner of speech, but it has now taken on darker implications. Hospitals have become the places where you go to get sick instead of become well.


There’s lots of reasons:


  • Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems that are virtually sealed in buildings where the windows no longer open.  That keeps recirculated air on an endless loop, so patients end up breathing every other sick person’s exhalations.

  • Over use (for decades) of anti-biotics for every case of sniffles.  This constancy of what amounts to prescription abuse created a whole new class of viruses that are resistant to anti-biotics and they’re killing patients.

  • Plain old sloppy housekeeping practices.

  • Doctors and nurses wearing rubber gloves to keep them safe from communicable diseases, but who don’t change gloves often enough to keep patients safe.

  • Not enough periodic hand washing.

Ceci Connolly’s Washington Post article points to Pennsylvania’s study (the first among the states) that showed 12,000 Pennsylvanians contracting infectious diseases in hospital during 2004.  They didn’t come to the hospital with those diseases, they caught them there.  At least 1,500 of those patients died.  Unnecessarily.  Of something they didn’t have when they came in the door.


Because of underreporting (not hard to understand in this litigious society) the actual totals may be as high as ten times that number.  The numbers-crunchers point out that Pennsylvania accounts for just 4% of the national population and thus 100 unlucky hospitalized victims may be dying on a daily basis across the country. That’s 37,000 needless deaths every year and the number is growing rather than declining.


Common strep infections are poised on the knife-edge of one or two antibiotics left that are effective against them and, if strains resistant to these couple remaining drugs appear, hospital deaths will soar. According to a recent AP article, “Hospital infections, which kill about 90,000 people a year, are fueled by bacteria that are growing more and more resistant to the drugs commonly used against them. The top six bacteria found in hospitals are each resistant to at least one drug.”


The average cost of treating a Pennsylvania hospital patient who contracted a needless infection was a stunning $29,000.00.  It takes one’s breath away.  How is it possible to spend twenty-nine grand on curing an infection? 


So, take your pick between 37,000 and 90,000 but they’re each an outrageous number of preventable deaths.  If the top figure is anywhere near correct (and the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta says it is), it’s larger than all accidental deaths combined, including automobiles.


Not only is the nation’s health care system bankrupting us, it’s killing us at an unheard of rate.


The answer of course is to stay out of the hospital.  It’s everyone’s best bet as a place to become sick rather than get well.
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There are lots more things that make me nuts, all of them on my personal web site.