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11 July 2011
Though we live in countries with well-funded and advanced healthcare settings, we all know that receiving medical treatment inevitably carries risk with it. However, less is known about the procedures in place to minimise the risk of adverse events. Should I be scared to enter a healthcare setting? How do I know if the hospital where I am treated has a procedure in place to minimise risk so that it is not complicated by an infection?
The issue of patient safety, as a critical component of the quality of healthcare, is of considerable significance to me as a former Minister of Health, a former Member of the European Parliament and most importantly, as a patient. In my role as Honorary President of Health First Europe, I continue to encourage Member States and EU institutions to find avenues to ensure the patient is capable of choosing where his/her treatment can be best acquired so that fear of medical procedures is reduced and risk is minimised.
Too often, patients enter care settings unaware of possible adverse events that may occur during a hospital stay. Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs) are all too frequent and are one of the most prominent reasons for failure of advanced medical treatment. I still find it hard to believe that between 8% and 12% of patients are harmed while receiving healthcare, even in today’s well-funded and technologically advanced settings. An estimated 4.1 million patients in the EU will contract an infection while being treated, causing considerable increases in illness, mortality and costs. They magnify the burden on medical staff, payors and employers, with the largest burden falling on the patient. They cause further time away from work and increase the burden on healthcare systems and the economy – both in terms of productivity lost and additional services required. Moreover, there are too many instances in which HAIs could easily have been prevented. Proper hand hygiene can most certainly have an impact, but there are numerous other methods which contribute to effectively reducing HAIs and can decrease the suffering of patients and healthcare professionals in Europe. What are we waiting for? Why don’t we embrace them?
I believe that in order to enshrine safety for patients in both the hospital and homecare settings, Member States must define and engrain strategies for the reduction of HAIs within their health policy. This includes determining the continuous training and education of medical professionals and increasing the access of innovative medical technologies which are especially designed to reducing the risk of infection. The medical technology industry is continuously discovering new ways to deliver effective treatments which reduce the human error and, therefore, limit the chances of infection. These include antimicrobial coatings, ‘closed’ catheterisation systems which minimise the opportunities for bloodstream infections, highly efficient surgical site barriers and dressings, and needlestick prevention mechanisms. Additionally, effective rapid screening technologies, monitoring systems to identify and limit the spread of infections, and diagnostic systems to ensure appropriate targeted usage of antibiotics can play a vital role.
However, policy must develop with technology. The EU is playing a role in encouraging the adoption of measures to develop national policies which include reporting systems for HAIs (as part of the Council Recommendations on Patient Safety 2009) and is facilitating the uptake of medical technology through the Innovation Union (under the Europe 2020 Strategy). Yet, both programmes fall short of demanding concrete, quantifiable measures for the reduction of HAIs and specific benchmarks for monitoring the uptake of medical technologies that assist in HAI reduction.
As both a patient and a policymaker, I feel strongly that statistics on the incidence of HAIs and the availability of technologies for patients must be readily available to patients, allowing them to be assured that they will receive the best quality of care. Every single patient, myself included, deserves the peace of mind of knowing that, when entering a hospital or any other healthcare setting, they will be safe from entry to exit.