No patient expects to check out of a hospital with more medical problems than upon checking in. The prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and higher patient loads in many hospitals have combined to create the minor epidemic of hospital-acquired infections (HAI), which are also referred to as nosocomial infections. Some hospital infections can lead to significant long-term health complications, and hospitals and medical centers may be held liable for negligently fostering those infections if they failed to implement regular and customary standards to prevent them.
Individuals who had contracted an HAI at around the time when they were in a hospital should ask themselves the following questions to determine if they have a cause of action for negligence on account of their contracting a hospital infection:
- Was their health compromised by other illnesses when they checked into the hospital, thus increasing the risk of their exposure to infectious agents?
- Did they seek treatment for the hospital infection either while in the hospital promptly after being released?
- What parties (g. nurse, hospital, an independent physician, other hospital employee) were involved in the treatment that may have given rise to the hospital infection?
Hospital Acquired Infections and Transmission to Patients
Individuals can contract a hospital-acquired infection through any one or more of several pathways, including direct contact with other infected individuals, airborne or droplet transmission of hospital infections following another person’s coughing or sneezing, and contamination of instruments that have not been adequately sterilized. The U.S. Center for Disease Control tracks how well hospitals perform in preventing and treating HAI’s. Individuals who are concerned over hospital infections may be able to check the CDC’s data on the particular hospital that will be providing their treatment.
Patient Risk Factors and Other Compromises to a Patient’s Health
Individuals with weakened immune systems and those expecting a longer stay in any hospital or medical treatment facility are at greater risk of contracting an HAI. Physicians and hospitals that are aware of these heightened risk factors but fail to take steps to prevent HAI’s may subsequently be found to have been negligent. Doctors and other caregivers who don’t wash their hands and take other steps to reduce exposure to bacteria will further increase the patient’s risk of contracting a hospital-acquired infection, particularly if they are performing invasive procedures like catheterizations.
The Patient’s Responsibilities in Instances of Hospital-Acquired Infections
As with other medical malpractice cases, a patient’s prospects for receiving monetary damages for any illnesses contracted through an HAI can be adversely affected if the patient is partially responsible for his or her illness. If for example, a patient failed to receive recommended follow-up treatment to change wound dressings, if he didn’t wash his hands or did not take recommended antibiotic medications, a court may determine that the patient is not entitled to any compensation. HAI’s can lead to more serious infections, including sepsis or septic shock that can permanently disable a patient or even cause his death. A person who is or who will be hospitalized should strictly comply with all medical instructions both during his or her hospital stay and afterward both to prevent more dangerous infections and to avoid any challenges to a hospital infection claim.
The Chain of Causation and Hospital Acquired Infections
Extreme cases of hospital-acquired infections, for example, that lead to sepsis or septic shock injuries that develop while a patient is still hospitalized, will be more easily traced back to a cause within the hospital or treatment center. The causes of less severe but still-injurious infections can be more difficult to prove for liability purposes. Patients who contract HAI’s will need to recall each person with whom they had contact, treatment and recovery rooms that they stayed in, and equipment that they contacted. Hospital infections that inflict groups of people in a hospital at the same time will simplify the proof of a causative chain.
In all cases, hospitals and medical treatment centers owe a duty of care to their patients to provide a clean and infection-free environment. When a patient contracts a hospital-acquired infection while hospitalized and suffers injuries and damages . As a result, a prima facie negligence case may be present. Patients who experience HAI”s should consult with an attorney as soon as possible to see if they have any recourse against the hospital and to determine if they are entitled to damages for their injuries.
For a Consumer Reports article on infections acquired in hospitals:
For more information from the National Institutes of Health on Hospital Acquired Infections, see: