MRSA infections have a high death toll. If you get MRSA, you have a one-in-five chance of dying. And MRSA, despite efforts to control it, appears to be spreading. There have been reports of outbreaks in hospitals and schools. People that fear MRSA should know that they can reduce their chances of acquiring the infection by taking one simple action: washing their hands. Hand washing has been proven to reduce the spread of MRSA.
MRSA outbreaks are sadly common in American hospitals and health care facilities. MRSA spreads from one patient to the hands of a doctor or visitor, and on to another patient. Doctors know that they should wash their hands after every single visit. But, as Atul Gawande points out in Better, if you see 100 patients a day and spend 1 minute on each hand washing, you’ve just spent an hour and a half of your day washing your hands.
Insurance companies are not helping this situation. They want doctors to be more efficient, which is code for seeing more patients in a day. To the bean counter at the insurance company, a doctor should be able to make a complex diagnosis in 15 minutes. Pressed for time, doctors sometimes skip the hand washing, and unintentionally spread MRSA to a patient.
Insurance companies were also behind the movement against private rooms. Private rooms in hospitals isolate infections and make it easier to control the spread of an infection. A person in a private room is less likely to get a hospital-acquired infection. Private rooms are also better from a mental health stand point.
But the hospital can charge more for private rooms. In the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t unusual to see 3 or more patients in a single hospital room, all sharing a bathroom and possibly exposed to each others harmful bacteria. The rise of MRSA’s “which is a tremendously expensive illness to treat” caused insurance companies to accept the private room as a legitimate precaution.
Doctors are more conscientious about washing their hands. Anti-bacterial lotions are stored next to patient beds. Hospitals hire risk management specialist, who try to reduce the rate of hospital acquired infections by getting doctors to wash their hands at each patient visit. Patients are also protected because doctors are looking out for MRSA, and delivering antibiotic therapies before the infection spirals out of control.
There are other precautions, such as pre-admission tests for MRSA. Hospital staff swabs the nose-where the MRSA bacteria often exists-to test for MRSA. Patients that test positive are isolated.
Also, insurance companies may increase the amount of time allotted to visits in order to account for hand washing. A doctor that is not rushed is a doctor that is more likely to wash his or her hands, which is a potentially life-saving action. Check out the 5 million Lives Campaign to see if your local hospital has made a commitment to reducing hospital-acquired infections.