Real World Health Care Blog

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National Patient Safety Program Cuts Bloodstream Infections to Save Lives and Money

Central-line catheters are lifesavers. They’re used in hospitals to deliver therapy where needed and when needed for patients with a wide range of conditions.  Unfortunately, central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) result in thousands of deaths each year and billions of dollars in added costs to the U.S. health care system, according to the CDC.

But there’s one collaborative program that has cut CLABSIs in intensive care units by 40 percent, preventing more than 2,000 infections, saving more than 500 lives and avoiding more than $34 million in health care costs. The program, funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), used the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP) to achieve these landmark results.

CLABSIs occur when germs enter the bloodstream through the central line (also known as a central venous catheter), which is placed in a large vein in a patient’s neck, chest or groin to give medication or fluids or to collect blood for medical tests. Such lines are commonly used in intensive care units and can remain in place for weeks or months.

Thanks in part to CUSP, progress is being made to protect people from these infections. In fact, nearly 60 percent fewer bloodstream infections occurred in hospital ICU patients with central lines in 2009 than in 2001. This decrease in infections saved up to 27,000 lives and $1.1 billion in excess medical costs. More recently, CLABSIs dropped 41 percent from 2008 to 2011, up from a 32 percent reduction in 2010.

CUSP Programs, like the one used in the AHRQ project, are being used by a number of state health departments to help prevent CLABSIs. CUSP combines clinical best practices with an understanding of the science of safety, improved safety culture and an increased focus on teamwork. It helps clinicians understand how to identify safety problems and gives them the tools to tackle those problems.

“In the CLABSI project, we learned that the principles of CUSP worked to make care safer, and that clinical teams could sustain those improvements over time,” said Jeff Brady, MD, MPH, Associate Director, Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety. “The CUSP toolkit, which is a free resource on AHRQ’s web site, is designed to help clinical teams improve any safety problem, not just CLABSIs or infections.”

Indeed, Dr. Brady notes that new projects are already underway to apply CUSP principles to other safety problems like perinatal care and other settings of care, like ambulatory surgery. In addition, AHRQ is developing a CUSP toolkit module to address patient and family engagement – a resource slated for introduction in the late spring.

The bottom line: CLABSIs are preventable and we have the replicable tools we need to protect more patients.

How are health care providers in your area preventing CLABSIs? Are there steps patients can take? If so, what are they?