While several steps have been taken to make hospitals safer for patients, the danger of complications and people getting sick from hospital visits still prevail. Returning to a hospital after being discharged now seems more commonplace. A study published by New England Journal of Medicine earlier this year found that infections were making 1 in 25 people sick in 2011. The CDC offers practical tips for patients to help them be better protected from infections during their time in a hospital. These tips include speaking to your doctor about the types of antibiotics that a person is prescribed, knowing the early signs of infection, being vaccinated from the flu and other infections and, of course, washing your hands. Other issues indicate that these steps alone are not enough. Overcrowded emergency rooms mean doctors hurry to release patients on floors in order to make room for sick patients waiting downstairs. Often this constant demand means patients don’t get to spend as much time recovering in the hospital under proper supervision and antibiotic regimen during their visits. Instead they are sent home to fend for themselves. Too often, they return.
Open Medicine, a peer reviewed medical journal, published a study on Tuesday that found elevator buttons had a higher concentration of bacteria than toilet surfaces. The Toronto-based research team collected samples from elevator buttons and toilet surfaces in Toronto hospitals and analyzed the samples. As disgusting as that sounds, anyone who has had a recent hospital visit might not find that hard to believe. The problem of cleanliness may also be tied to the high occupancy and quick patient turnaround in hospitals. Issues like these are making problems worse. A non-profit health system based in Pittsburgh unveiled its latest disinfecting robot today. The robot makes use of ultraviolet light while sanitizing rooms in the hospital used for operating, as well as patient rooms. The ultraviolet light produced by the robot, which was nicknamed “Violet,” damage several bacteria that are resistant to typical antibiotics. These “superbugs” are another factor in the fight against infections in hospital settings.
In Florida, germs resistant to almost all antibiotics have been widespread over the past several years. A dozen outbreaks have moved through the state since 2008 according to public records. The laws in Florida require that bacteria of any kind is reported. Enforcing the law, however, proves to be much more difficult than intended. Lack of money for research and not enough emphasis placed on reporting incidents, including those from patients who had visited hospitals, have been cited as reasons for the persisting problem that is making people sick. There has also been slow response in finding new protocols, treatments or medicines to help combat these “nightmare” germs. Other U.S. cities and places in Canada are having similar issues.
So whether it’s more studies to determine where the germs are located in the hospital, new and innovative technology to help clean hospitals or increased campaigns promoting prevention tips, something more needs to be done. Perhaps a holistic approach involving all of these ways to battle sickness is best. Either way patients anticipating a hospital visit anytime soon should be sure to take their well-being into their own hands as much as possible. Insisting that rooms and equipment are properly sanitized is the right of every patient. Speaking with your doctor about any antibiotics prescribed to you is smart and proactive. Hospitals are intended to help people get and stay well, and are not supposed to be places that patients can be made sick simply by visiting the facility. People can make sure their own visits are as safe as possible with some assertion on their part; making healthcare a joint effort by patients and medical professionals.
By Alicia Brownell