Ky. Voices: More scrutiny on spread of infections; health care industry resists surveillance

Dr. Kevin Kavanagh of Somerset is chairman of Health Watch USA.
Dr. Kevin Kavanagh of Somerset is chairman of Health Watch USA.

I am not sure what caught my eye first, since the story of a Mexican-American mother from Phoenix taking her child out of a hospital against medical advice raised so many ethical issues and questions. I kept wondering if this story was not about the reported financial issues and the cost of care, but about a scared mother who took her child away from a health care system where the child lost her arm due to a health-care associated infection, and then fled to Mexico in an attempt to receive safer health care.

The child had leukemia so was probably in frequent contact with the medical profession and prolonged hospitalizations. Thus, I feel the question that must be asked, Was this a very tragic health-care associated infection? The mother reportedly thinks so.

We probably will never know the whole story since a federal law called HIPAA protects patients by preventing disclosure of their private medical information, but it also can hurt patients by providing facilities an impenetrable shield to protect them from public scrutiny of their errors. But just the fact that we are entertaining this probability is a profound statement about our health care system, one which would not have had credence 20 years ago.

Slowly, the American public is coming to grips with the fact that not all of our facilities are safe. But what else can you say about anyplace where you have one chance in 20 of acquiring an infection. And of course there are lots of other adverse events which can occur, sometimes referred to by the industry as "medical misadventures".

Nor do I mean that all unsafe facilities are entirely at fault themselves, for research has shown that unacceptable infection rates at other facilities have an adverse effect on facilities that are trying in earnest to hold down infection rates. Similar to driving on the interstate, even if you are a safe driver you can still get killed by someone else speeding. This is why we need state engagement on this issue so all facilities, not just a few, are safe.

In many areas of the United States, the war against health-care acquired infections is at risk of being lost. The medical industry seems to have gone out of its way to not implement effective protocols to control disease.

This has even progressed to the point, in the case of the superbug MRSA, of expounding a few poorly designed studies as a reason not to recommend surveillance. And, in the case of superbug C. Difficile, not recommending isolation of patients when symptoms develop, but only after the infection is diagnosed by test results.

In addition, providers are still not consistently washing their hands and all too often patients are reporting their rooms and bathrooms are not always clean.

A new and more powerful superbug called CRE is emerging. It is resistant to almost all treatments and if a patient develops an infection, he has up to a 40 percent chance of dying. In comparison, it makes MRSA look like the common cold.

If the health-care industry continues along its present path of only acting if everyone and everything is in agreement, including unreliable studies, then we are all in trouble.