Preventable Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia Infections

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Hospital-acquired infections are one of the most serious types of avoidable medical errors.  A group focused on improving patient safety has outlined a way to prevent the most common type of HAI: pneumonia.

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to make healthcare safer, primarily through education. This effort includes publishing what it calls Actionable Patient Safety Solutions.  In 2020, one such publication focused on pneumonia, which it identified as the number one hospital-acquired infection, reporting that 60% of all hospital-acquired infections are pneumonia.

The 2020 report, however, focused on pneumonia that a patient acquires in the hospital from sources other than a ventilator, or non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia.  This type of pneumonia is potentially very deadly.  According to the report:

  • Patients who suffer non-ventilator pneumonia during a hospital stay are eight times more likely to die than those who do not
  • Patients with non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia typically have a hospital stay four times longer than other patients not suffering the condition

Patient Deaths from Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia

According to the report, patient death rates from this type of hospital-acquired pneumonia are as high as 30%.  Yet, 70% of non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia cases are preventable through what the organization terms easy and inexpensive measures.

The report, built on findings from previous research, notes that in recent years an emphasis has been on preventing hospital-acquired pneumonia associated with ventilators.  Incidences of hospital-acquired pneumonia have declined as a result. But non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia remains a serious threat, as it has been estimated as the leading hospital-acquired infection - along with surgical site infections.

Basic Healthcare Treatment to Prevent Non-Ventilator Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia

Three primary steps that healthcare professionals should take in preventing non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia, according to the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, are:

  • Oral care
  • Respiratory exercises
  • Mobility

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, primarily from bacteria. A ventilated patient can develop pneumonia if germs from an unclean breathing tube travel to the lungs.

An unventilated patient avoids such breathing tube dangers, but germs from other sources still can travel from the patient’s mouth to the lungs.  This can happen within the first 48 hours of a hospital stay. The Patient Safety Movement therefore recommends that all patients receive proper oral care as one way to prevent non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia.

It notes previous research that showed nearly 60% of patients with this type of hospital-acquired pneumonia did not receive basic oral hygiene that can prevent dangerous bacteria from entering the lungs.

More than 80% of patients developing non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia have been found to lack standard respiratory therapy. Incentive spirometry measures a patient’s breath volume with a plastic, inexpensive hand-held medical device.  It also helps break up mucus and prevent fluid build-up in the lungs, thereby also helping to ward off pneumonia.

Just over two-thirds of patients with non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia also were not given a basic respiratory exercise regime that included deep coughing and deep breathing exercises.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a federal agency focused on improving healthcare safety, patient immobility can cause health complications with critically ill patients.  Getting patients moving early and often as possible during a hospital stay, from walking to physical therapy, is imperative.  However, less than 30% of the pneumonia patients in one study cited by the Patient Safety Movement got up and moved at least twice a day before their diagnosis.

Hospital Leadership’s Role in Preventing Medical Errors

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation also calls upon hospital administrations to play an active role in preventing non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia.  It recommends hospital leadership:

  • Be committed to reducing hospital-acquired pneumonia errors
  • Become aware of treatment mistakes that can lead to hospital-acquired infections
  • Implement a comprehensive plan to address those treatment errors

When patients die or suffer severe injuries from preventable medical errors, such as a hospital-acquired infection, those responsible can be held legally liable.  If you or a loved one was a victim of a grave medical error, speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles January 6. 2022

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