A health care-associated infection (HAI) is one that occurs in a patient in a health care facility, generally a hospital, that is not associated with the admitted diagnosis or health issue. The time frame is typically described as acquiring an infection 48 hours after hospital admittance.
Hospitals should be a safety zone when it comes to infections and disease, but the reality is much different. Health care facilities are often breeding zones of germs and infections. According to the CDC, there is an overall decrease in health care-associated infections over the past few years, but there is still a long way to go to protect patients.
Why is there a risk?
There are some key reasons for incidents of hospital-acquired infections:
- Increased susceptibility
Patients who are in a health care setting already have a lower defense against bacteria. It might be due to age; both the elderly and the very young do not have well-developed immune systems. Cancer can also decimate your ability to ward off bacteria.
- Invasive devices
Surgical drains, catheters and other tubes have already breached the body's main defense line. When you have had a surgery, your body is open to an infection through the site. The tubes and devices allow bacteria to enter your system.
- Medications and other treatments
Some treatments weaken the body's immune system, such as repeated blood transfusions. Other medications make a patient more vulnerable to infections; for example, an antacid treatment which eliminates good bacteria that fights the bad bacteria.
- Facility procedures
The cleanliness or the treatment setting is key in preventing infections, but this goes much deeper than simply the care the health care providers take in washing hands and maintaining sterility during a treatment. It also includes the HVAC system, the cleanliness of the water system and building surfaces.
Who is liable for an HAI?
From a legal aspect, it can be very difficult to determine the entity or individual legally responsible for an HAI, but if you believe you or your loved one acquired an infection due to the facility or health care provider, you should talk to an attorney. Insurance may decline a claim if the company suspects an HAI, which leaves the patient responsible unless it can be shown that the hospital or health care provider was negligent. You might be able to bring a lawsuit against the health care provider, but you will need to have a plan and obtain the data you need to prove damages. Getting this information is not easy, but it can be done when you have a good attorney and expert resources behind you.