Six steps to reduce your risk of a hospital-acquired infection
The problem of patients developing infections or other injuries simply because of being treated in a hospital has become commonplace. It has become so widespread, in fact, that there is now a name for it: hospital-acquired injuries.
In my practice as a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer, one of the most common hospital-acquired injuries is infections. Sometimes a delay in diagnosing and treating these infections allows them to develop into deadly sepsis.
Right now, for example, I am working on two cases where patients developed rare, rapidly-growing mycobacterial infections after laparoscopic surgery. I have already filed one lawsuit in Houston against a surgical center, and getting ready to file the other lawsuit in Austin against the hospital.
Mycobacteria are waterborne, meaning that they are typically spread through contact with contaminated water or soil. To investigate these two cases, Painter Law Firm hired infectious diseases and general surgery experts. Both experts have given their opinion that the only way that these two patients could have developed a mycobacterial infection after laparoscopic surgery is if the equipment or supplies were contaminated because of improper sterilization procedures. In other words, the operating room equipment or supplies were contaminated with mycobacterial spores, which spread inside the patients’ bodies during surgery.
Houston Methodist Hospital, in the Texas Medical Center, has also been reported to have problems with infections because of reused surgical equipment that was contaminated with the prior patient’s body tissue. In 2011, a patient sued the hospital after developing a hospital-acquired Pseudomonas infection after shoulder surgery.
Reducing your risk for a hospital-acquired infection
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described the problem of hospital-acquired infections like this: “Every day, patients get infections in healthcare facilities while they are being treated for something else.”
The CDC recommended these six steps for patients and loved ones to reduce the risk of developing a hospital-acquired infection.
First, speak up. This means share your concern about a hospital-acquired infection with your doctor, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant. Ask them what steps they take to protect you. If you have a catheter, ask each day if it is necessary to keep it or if it can be removed. Discuss how your healthcare providers prevent surgical site infections. Inquire if there is anything that you can do to prepare for surgery to reduce your risk of an infection.
Second, stay observant to make sure that all healthcare providers clean their hands before touching you. Handwashing is supposed to be a universal practice, but sometimes a physician, nurse, or middle-level provider may get busy and forget. By watching what is going on and speaking up, you can prevent a potential spread of infection from the previous patient to you.
Third, get smart about antibiotics. Antibiotics are medications that kill bacteria. Some antibiotics work on some bacteria, but not others. Ask your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner if they will be ordering tests to make sure the right antibiotic is prescribed. If necessary, your provider may order a culture and sensitivity analysis, which involves obtaining a sample of the infection, sending it for growth, and then determining the bacterial sensitivity to various antibiotics.
Fourth, be familiar with the signs and symptoms of infection. For skin infections, keep an eye out for redness, pain, or drainage at a surgery or intravenous (IV) catheter site. Also, be on the lookout for fever. If you have any of these symptoms, be sure to tell your healthcare provider.
Fifth, be aware of multiple episodes of diarrhea. If you experience diarrhea three or more times in 24 hours, especially if you have been taking an antibiotic, tell your doctor about it. This could be a sign of an infection by bacteria called Clostridium difficile (C. diff.).
Sixth, protect yourself. Consider vaccinations against influenza (the flu) and other infections.
We are here to help
From our experience in reviewing and handling many, many medical malpractice claims, we know that developing a hospital-acquired infection is sometimes because of negligence. In other cases, the focus is on whether the healthcare providers promptly diagnosed and treated the infection.
If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of a hospital-acquired infection, or any other type of medical malpractice, call the experienced attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, at 281-580-8800, for a free consultation about your potential case.
Robert Painter is an attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. In 2018, he was elected to a two-year term on the Board of Directors of the Houston Bar Association.