The potential benefits of new technologies to help prevent hospital-acquired infections in patients at Veterans Affairs Department facilities — including a “germ-zapping” robot — were the subject of a House hearing on Thursday.
“In the worst performing hospitals, which include some VA hospitals, up to 10 percent of patients are harmed by these infections,” noted Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. “In-hospital mortality rates among patients who have contracted infections are about five times higher than among patients who were not infected.”
“What is additionally astounding is that the infection rates at some VA hospitals exceed the rates at private-sector hospitals by 10 times or more,” added Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., chairman of the committee’s oversight panel.
About 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections occur in U.S. hospitals each year, resulting in up to 99,000 deaths and an estimated $20 billion in health care costs, according to the Center for Disease Control.
Traditional hospital-acquired diseases include nosocomial pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease, E. coli, MRSA and C. difficile.
Among the witnesses testifying at the hearing were infectious disease specialists and private sector representatives presenting their companies’ anti-infection technologies.
Pharmaceutical drugs are often used to treat hospital-acquired infections, but Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., chairman of the committee’s research and technology panel, said non-pharmaceutical solutions are also an option — one that does not involve antibiotic resistance.
Jeff Smith, president of Electro-Spec, Inc., told lawmakers about Steriplate, a technology made with copper and other antimicrobial metal coatings designed to reduce surface bacteria both inside and outside of the body by attacking bacterial DNA and cell proteins.
“The entire process occurs quickly, resulting in the collapse of a [bacterial] population within minutes,” Smith said.
Morris Miller, chief executive officer of Xenex Disinfection Services, introduced a “house-keeping hero,” a robot that kills pathogens and microscopic drug-resistant superbugs by creating ultraviolet light to destroy the DNA of the bacteria.
The robot can disinfect an area within five minutes and has been proven to reduce C. difficile and MRSA infections, Miller said.
“It is important to realize that hospital-acquired infection rates will never be zero, but can and should be aggressively minimized,” Bucshon said. “We made promises to our veterans and we must fulfill those promises. Our veterans should receive the very best care of anywhere in the country.”