Report: Feds Should Survey Outpatient Clinics

LAS VEGAS (AP) - The federal Department of Health and Human Services should conduct periodic national surveys of outpatient surgical centers to determine how many patients are put at risk of
infection, according to a government report.

That data collection effort, according to the report released Friday by the Government Accountability Office, will help focus the energy of federal agencies on ways to reduce infection and patient risk.

The report was requested by U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley in the wake of a 2008 hepatitis outbreak in Las Vegas. Two clinics that performed endoscopies were found to have put thousands of people at risk by practicing unsafe injection procedures.

The GAO researchers note that health care associated infections are one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the United States. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 99,000 such deaths occur each year in hospitals.

But the report acknowledges that authorities have no idea of how many Americans are put at risk of contracting infections because of unsafe infection control practices at ambulatory surgical centers.
In 2007 alone, more than 6 million surgeries were performed in more than 5,100 ambulatory surgical centers nationwide, according to the GAO report.

"The report being released highlights just how little we know about the prevalence of unsafe practices in outpatient care settings," Berkley, D-Nev., said in a statement released Friday. "While guidelines and standards exist, we lack the mechanisms to ensure they are being followed as required."

As a result of the Las Vegas outbreak, more than 50,000 people were told to get tested for hepatitis and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Nine cases of hepatitis were linked directly to the two clinics.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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