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Eighteen percent of Americans say they or a loved one have acquired a dangerous infection following a medical procedure. One in three Americans report that they have been victims of some kind of medical error in everyday medical procedures.

A 2005 Business Week article focused on the staggering cost of healthcare in the US, and the fallacy that because the US spends more than any other country, our medical care is superior to that of other countries. In fact, measures of public health, longevity, and well-being lag far behind other nations, even those that aren’t economic superpowers. We may spend more, but we do not live as long, and our health is poorer.
A new Consumer Reports poll conducted last month interviewed more than 2000 adults about acquired infections, medical errors, and preventive care. It was released in conjunction with a congressional briefing on the healthcare delivery system reform.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 100,000 or more die each year from hospital-acquired infection. The poll revealed the following startling points:

• Of the eighteen percent of Americans who reported an infection following a hospital stay or medical procedure, 6 in 10 of them reported the infection was severe or life-threatening.
• If a patient spent the night in the hospital, the infection risk increased 45%.
• More than 50% of Americans polled indicated these infections required additional out of pocket expenses to treat the infection.
• Sixty-nine percent had to be admitted to or extend a hospital stay because of the infection.
These statistics indicate a staggering breakdown in basic medical operating procedures. Under the Bush administration, Medicare declared that starting in 2009, they “will not cover the costs of preventable conditions, mistakes and infections resulting from a hospital stay.”

Why should anyone pay for hospital-acquired infections or medical errors? People and institutions alike change their behavior only when there are consequences for their actions. Waste takes a huge bite out of the funds our government pays for healthcare. It is time we demand quality—and safety—for our healthcare dollars.

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