When Dr. Peter J. Pronovost began looking at ways to combat hospital-related infections, physicians and other colleagues almost always had a ready response: Infections were inevitable in caring for thousands of sick patients every year. But the Johns Hopkins physician didn't see it that way and developed a five-step program to prevent dangerous infections contracted in hospitals, research that recently earned him a prestigious MacArthur Foundation genius award. These simple measures have been shown to save lives, and more hospitals should adopt them.
A recent congressional study estimated that a prevention program developed by Dr. Pronovost could save an additional 15,680 lives nationally and an estimated $1.3 billion in costs if used by all states. The September report by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform surveyed hospital associations and found that only 14 states were using or planned to use the Pronovost program to help prevent patient infections that develop from the use of catheters in intensive care units. The program relies on steps as simple as washing hands and using proven cleaners to swab an area before inserting a catheter, and a checklist that ensures that medical professionals complete the five steps.
The results of the checklist are readily apparent in Michigan, where the state hospital association adopted the program in 2003: After 18 months, the rate of catheter infections in ICU patients declined 66 percent. That translated into 1,729 lives and more than $236 million saved.