Patient in hospital bed
The World Health Organization says staying in a hospital is more likely to kill a person than a plane crash. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The new World Health Organization patient advocate stated that hospitals are more likely to kill people than plane crashes. According to the WHO, various factors such as hospital-acquired infections and medical errors make a hospital stay a dangerous proposition.

Medical errors and infection

The World Health Organization recently appointed Sir Liam Donaldson as the patient envoy for the organization. Immediately upon being hired, Donaldson said in a press conference, according to Reuters, that hospitals pose more of a threat to human life than plane crashes. Donaldson, formerly Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom, asserted that the chance of a medical error in all hospitals worldwide was about 1 in 10, and the chance of death from such an error was 1 in 300. There is a 1 in 10 million chance of being killed in a plane crash.

Hand-washing greatly reduces risk

The WHO statement concerns mostly infections that occurred in hospitals rather than overall medical errors. The United Nations, according to Reuters, found that 7 of every 100 patients in hospitals in developed countries suffered a hospital-acquired infection, and developing countries had an infection rate of 10 out of every 100 patients. However, the WHO found that 16 percent of all patients worldwide acquired an infection while in a hospital, according to the Vancouver Sun. One of the most important things health care professionals can do to minimize risks of infection to patients is wash their hands with soap or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer before treating patients. The WHO estimates the infection rate at 4.5 percent in the U.S., 7.5 percent across Europe but 11.5 percent in Canada. The 1.7 million estimated hospital-acquired infections cause an estimated 100,000 deaths in U.S. hospitals per year, and the 4.5 million estimated hospital infections in Europe result in 37,000 annual deaths.

Scourge of health care

The WHO issued guidelines on hospital safety, including hand-washing, in 2004 in an effort to reduce the number of hospital acquired infections. Since then, according to the Vancouver Sun, almost 13,000 “health care settings,” which could mean hospitals, clinics or health care administrations in various nations, have reduced the rate of infections. Perhaps one of the most vital issues in health care in the past decade is the spread of the superbugs. An antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea was recently confirmed, but the most common is methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant form of a common staph infection, and patients are especially vulnerable in the intensive care unit, according to the Centers for Disease Control, or if they have an IV drip, catheter or are hooked up to a ventilator. The rate of MRSA infections has been dropping in U.S. hospitals. However, the CDC also estimates that 1 in 20 hospital patients contracts a healthcare-associated infection. HAIs, also referred to as nosocomial infections, are thought to be mostly preventable, and the easiest way for most people to avoid serious infections is to simply wash their hands.

Sources

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/21/us-safety-idUSTRE76K45R20110721

Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/health/Hospitals+riskier+than+airplanes/5142267/story.html

Centers for Disease Control on MRSA: http://www.cdc.gov/Features/MRSAinHealthcare/

CDC on Healthcare-Associated Infections: http://www.cdc.gov/HAI/index.html

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