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January 2008

Hospital infection control woes continue

Readers of this blog will note that I have much concern over infection control.  After all, what's the point of all that great high-tech medicine, if you're just going to die from a hospital-acquired infection?

CDC figures peg the number of these infections at about 2 million per year, with nearly 100,000 deaths.  So, yeah, it's a very big deal.

A few weeks ago, I posted an article to Health News Digest, mirrored here, talking about yet another problem that has come up.  This one has to do with a much-touted "alternative" sterilization method.  Hydrogen peroxide gas plasma—introduced by a division of Johnson & Johnson—was quickly embraced by thousands of hospitals, to replace ethylene oxide.

Although there were always doubts about its efficacy, it is quicker, and supposedly safer for the employees using it.  Since it is a new method, and some issues were known about using peroxide in the past, it was incumbent upon the manufacturer of the new sterilizer to put together a list of medical devices that could be sterilized in its machine.

But, in November, 2007, the J&J division (called Advanced Sterilization Products) notified its customers that all prior lists are inoperative.  One can assume that something pretty nasty must have happened to have caused this wholesale abandonment of its customers.  As it is, ASP is advising its customers to check with the device manufacturer for further guidance.  NICE...

But, what's the device manufacturer supposed to say--to customers who have already been using the ASP unit for several years?  He HAS to say it's OK if he wants to keep selling product.  The only thing that will break this Mexican standoff is for the ASP unit to destroy a particular device, as it has done with certain scopes made by Olympus.

Sure, ASP can blame it on a faulty device or bad employee, but if that occurs often enough, it just won't wash.

Meanwhile, the only one who gets screwed is the patient, since you can bet that the devices will get sterilized less often, and so-called high-level disinfection—totally inappropriate for some of these devices—will creep in.

I have my spies poised to report on how all this is playing out in various SPDs (Sterile processing departments) around the country.  You'd think there would be outrage, but, so far at least, you would be wrong.