First posted 7/8/11 on Health Blawg
The good people at GE and JESS3 have come up with an HAI infographic. It’s pretty, and it conveys the horrible information that many of us already know — healthcare associated infections kill about 100,000 people a year, and add $35 billion a year to our collective health care bill (here in the US of A); 5% of hospital inpatients end up with an HAI.
So what do we expect the world to do with this infographic? The FDA has rolled out new cigarette package warnings, including graphic photos, that are presumably intended to so sicken potential purchasers of cigarettes that they drop the pack of cigarettes and run screaming from the counter. In more measured terms, the FDA says:
The introduction of these warnings is expected to have a significant public health impact by decreasing the number of smokers, resulting in lives saved, increased life expectancy, and lower medical costs.
But what is the expected public health impact of publishing this infographic? I would like to see GE, and/or others, fund the public health campaigns that are needed to accompany the release of such information. GE is already doing some of that, to be sure, but a staggeringly large problem like the one identified here needs more attention. The federales are trying to move the needle by refusing to pay for the cost of providing health care services required due to HAIs. The government and providers are likely to be spending a lot of time and resources in line-drawing and finger-pointing, fighting over the dollars at stake, without pulling back and addressing root causes of HAIs in a systematic manner.
And what sort of campaign do we need in this circumstance? A consciousness-raising campaign, so that (1) the empowered patient can insist on provider transparency, and create additional market forces pulling or pushing providers away from the marketplace that has allowed the preventable HAI count to swell, and (2) engaged providers can work to prevent the preventable HAIs and communicate the value and quality of care that they can deliver to patients and potential patients.
One possible meeting ground for like-minded patients and providers on this issue is the Society for Participatory Medicine (yes, another shameless plug for the Society and its journal, blog and listserv — full disclosure: I am chair of its public policy committee). Join us!
Participatory Medicine is a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health, and in which providers encourage and value them as full partners.
Again, the infographic may introduce the problem to folks who may not be aware of it, but the real work lies in solving the problem, not just realizing that there is one.
David Harlow is a health care attorney blogging at Health Blawg.