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AHRQ awards $34M in 2011 to fight healthcare-associated infections

The U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesAgency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) announced this week that it has awarded grants totaling more than $34 million in 2011 in the fight against healthcare-associated infections (HAIs).

HAIs are bacterial, viral and fungal infections that patients get during the course of receiving medical care. They affect patients across all healthcare settings and current estimates indicate that at any one point in time may affect as many as 1-in-20 hospital patients.

"Infections are not an inevitable consequence of healthcare; they are preventable," said Carolyn Clancy, MD, AHRQ director, in a recent report detailing the grant awards. "With this investment, we are building on proven strategies to give doctors and healthcare teams the help they need to ensure that patients are safe from infections."

Projects funded by the grants and others funded by the agency help to attain the goals of HHS' Partnership for Patients initiative, public-private partnership of hospitals, employers, physicians, nurses, consumers, state and federal governments that aims to reduce the incidence of HAIs and other preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent (compared with 2010 rates) by 2013 through widespread adoption of evidence-based practices.

[See also: Virginia, Tennessee hospitals save $1.2M via infection reductions; AHRQ awards $4.5M in research grants]

These grants include projects to develop, test and spread the use of new modules of the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP), a proven method to prevent and reduce HAIs. Since 2008, AHRQ has been promoting the nationwide adoption of CUSP to reduce central line-associated blood stream infections.

The new CUSP modules target three additional infections that are also areas of focus for the Partnership for Patients:

  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections, the most common HAI, which can occur in patients with urinary catheters.
  • Surgical site infections, a complication of surgery that can occur at the incision site or deeper within the body.
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia, which can occur in patients who require mechanically assisted breathing and, as a result, have a higher risk of developing healthcare-associated pneumonia – a new module will be pilot tested in two states with funding from the HHS Office of Healthcare Quality.

Other newly funded projects include research on ways to reduce infections with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile, an organism that often affects patients on prolonged antibiotic treatment; the use of healthcare facility design to reduce HAIs; and alignment of work system factors to maximize and sustain successful HAI reduction efforts.

As part of its ongoing work to reduce HAIs, AHRQ is funding a 36-month research effort that will synthesize the results of AHRQ-funded HAI projects in fiscal years 2007-2010. The goals are to identify and promote the application of effective HAI prevention approaches and to identify gaps in the HAI science base that can be filled with additional research. AHRQ is also continuing to fund research on HAIs in long-term care, dialysis facilities and ambulatory care.