Hospitals are entrusted with providing a safe and healthy environment for patients to receive medical care and improve their health. However, when hospitals fail to meet this obligation, patients may suffer harm through Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs). These infections can lead to severe illnesses, prolonged hospitalization, and even fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1.7 million HAIs occur yearly in the United States, resulting in at least 100,000 deaths. In the legal realm, hospital liability for HAIs is a significant concern that requires careful examination and analysis.
Hospital Acquired Infections
Hospital-Acquired Infection refers to an infection that a patient contracts during their stay in a healthcare facility, which is unrelated to their original condition. Medical institutions such as hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, outpatient treatment centers, and nursing homes are all potential sources of these infections.
These infections are usually caused by the spread of germs and bacteria due to poor hygiene and sanitation practices in the medical facility. Because many hospitalized patients have weakened immune systems, they are more vulnerable to these infections. Typically, hospital-acquired diseases are developed within 48 hours after a patient’s admission to the medical facility.
Legal Obligation for Hospitals
Hospitals are legally obligated to maintain a healthy and safe environment for patients. This includes obligations and taking reasonable measures to prevent infection. Measures include maintaining clean facilities and equipment, training staff, enforcing infection control protocols and also monitoring, controlling and reporting any infectious diseases to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
When hospitals abdicate their obligations, they may be liable for medical malpractice. As such, patients may file legal proceedings against a hospital or any healthcare facility that has resulted in an HAI due to negligence.
Proving Medical malpractice and negligence
Proving medical malpractice and tort of negligence involves a two-fold test. The patient claiming must prove that the medical practitioner or the medical facility:
The hospital and medical practitioners have a duty of care for their patients that is appropriate for their conditions. Doctors have the duty to diagnose, treat, and ask for the consent of patients before performing a procedure, referral of patients to specialists and other healthcare providers to ensure patients receive appropriate health care and duty to follow up procedures for patients to monitor progress.
A breach of duty occurs when a doctor fails to perform the duty expected of them or they fail to complete the duty to the expected standard.
As a result of the said breach to perform the duty, the patient may contract a HAIR which is a foreseeable consequence of the breach.
HAIs are classified based on the location and source of infection. While HAIs may include a range of infections depending on the patient’s exposure to the risk factor, the most common types of HAIs include:
- Surgical site infections. They occur on the site of the incision and may cause inflammation, redness, swelling and sometimes discharge from the wound.
- Gastrointestinal infections may be caused by the ingestion of the wrong medicine or eating contaminated food. They are likely to cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
- Bloodstream infections. Bloodstream infection causes fevers and chills.
- Skin and soft tissue infections are caused by bacteria and fungi and cause inflammation and swelling at the point of infection.
- Central line-associated bloodstream infections are bloodstream infections that occur as a result of central venous catheters being inserted into a patient’s veins for an extended period.
Risk factors for acquiring an HAI
There are factors that predispose patients to HAIs. These include:
- Extended hospital stay can be particularly risky if a patient has complex or multiple illnesses.
- The type and duration of surgical procedures can also heighten the risk.
- Inadequate hand hygiene practices by hospital staff and patients can also increase the likelihood of HAI.
- Specific invasive procedures, such as inserting urinary catheters, IV cannulas, respiratory equipment, and drain tubes, can introduce infections into the body by bypassing the skin’s normal protective layer.
- Non-intact skin, such as wounds, surgical incisions, burns, and ulcers, is more susceptible to infection than intact skin.
Patient Rights and Responsibilities in Preventing HAIs
Although hospitals bear significant responsibility for preventing HAIs, patients cannot entirely shirk their responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves. In certain situations, patients may be partly or entirely to blame for their infection. Patient rights represent the obligations owed by hospitals to patients, whereas patient responsibilities refer to patients’ obligations towards hospitals. Patient rights consist of the following:
- The right to receive care in a clean and safe environment.
- The right to be informed about the steps you can take to prevent HAIs.
- The right to ask questions and speak up if you have concerns about infection control practices.
Patient responsibilities include:
- Wash hands frequently, especially before and after touching any part of your body or using the bathroom.
- Follow any isolation or infection control precautions recommended by your healthcare provider.
- Ask your healthcare providers to clean their hands before they touch you.
- Report any signs of infection, such as fever or redness around a wound, to your healthcare provider immediately.
- Avoid bringing unnecessary personal items into the hospital or other healthcare facility.
Damages in a Hospital liability claim
A Successful medical malpractice will lead to an award of damages such as:
Medical expenses: a patient will be entitled to damages in medical expenses if they incurred medical expenses as a result of the HAIs.
Lost wages: A patient may be hospitalized for long periods. During this period, they lose their capacity to earn, and they may also lose their employment; thus, they are entitled to damages in lost wages.
Pain and suffering. Patients can seek damages for pain and suffering for the period they were ill.
Loss of consortium: loss of consortium is mainly awarded in the unfortunate event of death. It is meant to remedy the loss of personal relationships with the deceased’s friends and kin.
Summarily, health facilities and medical practitioners owe their patients a duty of care, and on occasions, often, they may be in breach of this duty, which results in Hospital-Acquired Infections. In such a case, it is possible to institute legal proceedings against the institution or its doctors for damages or losses suffered due to the infection.
- Who is at risk of an HAI?
Anyone in a medical facility premises is at risk of contracting an HAI. Doctors can also contract HAIs and sue for damages.
- How can a patient avoid liability in a hospital-acquired infection claim?
Patients are required to adhere to the hospital policy and standard procedures. Patients are required to practice good hygiene, including regular hand washing or sanitizing.
If you are dealing with a hospital liability case, contact us or call us at 918-359-6600 today for a free consultation.