The hospital environment can, unfortunately, expose patients to a host of bacteria. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) affect roughly 1.7 million hospital patients each year. This equates to 5% to 10% of all hospitalized patients, resulting in 99,000 deaths and $20 billion in additional health care costs. For the first time, researchers are being allowed to analyze bacteria in a newly constructed private hospital. They hope to find answers that will reveal how facility designs influence infection rates.
Government reimbursement incentives to reduce infection and readmission rates continue to bear down on health care organizations, bringing HAIs sharply into focus as a prime area for improvement.
Attempting to provide a clearer understanding of the role that a hospital’s design and materials play in controlling the spread of microorganisms, researchers on the Hospital Microbiome Project are taking an in-depth look at how bacteria can flourish, change, and migrate between surfaces and patients in the hospital setting. This is the first study of its kind and the most comprehensive assessment of a hospital microbiome ever performed.
The Hospital Microbiome Project is a huge, two-part study that includes an analysis being performed at the University of Chicago’s new hospital pavilion and a second study of a single patient room at a U.S. Army hospital in Germany.
In Chicago, researchers began collecting samples when the hospital was still under construction and then documented how samples changed after the hospital was opened. They focused on 10 patient rooms spanning two floors, using sensors to measure bacterial growth.
In an earlier, related study, four hospitals participated in the Chicago Antimicrobial Resistance and Infection Prevention Epicenter , one of five research programs funded by the CDC. Findings from this program led to a significant reduction in the rate of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). The CDC hopes to replicate these finding at other hospitals in the U.S.
Sources of Bacteria
Many different factors contribute to the presence of bacteria and affect the types of bacteria that patients may come in contact with while hospitalized. These factors include the temperature and relative humidity, airflow and ventilation rates, the type of materials used for countertops and other surfaces, the presence of windows and cell phones—even the humans occupying the space. Consequently, the Hospital Microbiome Project at the hospital in Chicago will include water and air samples along with samples from the patient rooms, two nursing stations, and staff. Samples are being collected from:
- patients and patient rooms—nose, hand, inguinal fold, floor, bedrail, air filter, cold water tap, and glove box
- nursing station surfaces—countertop, computer mouse, phone, chair, corridor floor, hot and cold tap water
- staff—nose, hand, cell phone, pager, uniform cuff, and shoe.
Linens and discarded materials, such as ventilator tubing, will also be sampled.
Because researchers were allowed to begin sampling before the hospital was opened, they will be able to track how microbes develop and change as patients, visitors, and hospital staff interact with the health care environment over time. Nearly 13,000 samples will be collected and analyzed during the course of the study.
Researchers expect to be able to use the data they collect to identify how the ventilation, plumbing system, and furniture choices that go into the hospital’s design may contribute to HAIs. Even though the study is still in progress, researchers are hopeful that it will yield advice for other hospitals on making design choices that hold pathogens at bay. By gaining a better understanding of how microbes behave in the hospital environment, prevention techniques and treatment of HAIs can improve in the future. What this study finds has the potential of saving millions of lives.