Project Shows Substantial Decrease in Colorectal Surgery Infections

There was a time in medical science when doctors did not wash their hands prior to operating on their patients (some might say, that to a greater extent than seems possible, this is still the case among medical professionals and point to a number of recent studies as uncomfortable proof). This failure of doctors to wash hands in the medical forum led to the otherwise avoidable death of many of their patients. Up until the mid 1800s, medical science had simply not made the connection between bacteria, transference, infection and death.

Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician who was Director of the maternity clinic at the Vienna General Hospital in Austria, made the connection after what is said to have been an extensive statistical analysis in the 1840s, and demonstrated that hand-washing could drastically reduce the number of women dying during childbirth. He introduced a rigorous hand scrubbing protocol and enough women stopped dying to earn him the honorific, “savior of our mothers.”

But as an article from the UK’s Science Museum, Exploring the History of Medicine, points out

Until the late 1800s surgeons did not scrub up before surgery or even wash their hands between patients, causing infections to be transferred from one patient to another. Doctors and medical students routinely moved from dissecting corpses to examining new mothers without first washing their hands, causing death by puerperal or ‘childbed’ fever as a consequence. As dissection became more important to medical practice in the 1800s, this only increased.

Semmelweis showing again that the common sense of one era is the uncommon brilliance of one bygone.

Which brings us to this latest study/project showing new solutions which decrease the risk of colorectal surgical site infection. According to the Associated Press in an article about the project,

“Almost 2 million health care-related infections occur each year nationwide; more than 90,000 of these are fatal.”


“Infections linked with colorectal surgery are particularly common because intestinal tract bacteria are so abundant.”


According to the press release regarding the Project,

A project to reduce colorectal surgical site infections (SSIs) saved more than $3.7 million in costs for 135 avoided SSIs. The two-and-a-half year project included seven hospitals and was directed by the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare in collaboration with the American College of Surgeons.

The participating hospitals were able to reduce superficial incisional SSIs, which affect skin and underlying tissue, by 45 percent and all types of colorectal SSIs by 32 percent. The average length of stay for hospital patients with any type of colorectal SSI decreased from an average of 15 days to 13 days. In comparison, patients with no SSIs had an average length of stay of eight days.

The press release further notes that

Colorectal surgery was identified as the focus of the project because SSIs are disproportionately higher among patients following colorectal surgeries. Colorectal surgery is a common procedure across different types of hospitals, can have significant complications, presents significant opportunities for improvement, and has high variability in performance across hospitals. The project addressed preadmission, preoperative, intraoperative, postoperative and post discharge follow-up processes for all surgical patients undergoing emergency and elective colorectal surgery, with the exception of trauma and transplant patients and patients under the age of 18. Project participants studied the potential factors that contribute to all three types of colorectal SSIs – superficial incisional, deep incisional and organ space SSIs, which affect organs and the space surrounding them.


The AP article:

Solutions included having patients shower with special germ-fighting soap before surgery, and having surgery teams change gowns, gloves and instruments during operations to prevent spreading germs picked up during the procedures.

Some hospitals used special wound-protecting devices on surgery openings to keep intestine germs from reaching the skin.

The average rate of infections linked with colorectal operations at the seven hospitals dropped from about 16% of patients during a 10-month phase when hospitals started adopting changes to almost 11% once all the changes had been made.

The AP article further notes the timely nature of the Project’s benefits:

Besides wanting to keep patients healthy, hospitals have a monetary incentive to prevent these infections. Medicare cuts payments to hospitals that have lots of certain health care-related infections, and those cuts are expected to increase under the new health care law.


Teaching Communication: A Chaplain’s Efforts to Strengthen the Doctor-Patient Relationship

September 10, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Uncategorized 
Chaplain Sharon Hindle

Chaplain Sharon Hindle

[Ed. note, we are pleased to welcome Suzan Sanal to HRW. A second year law student at Seton Hall University School of Law pursuing a Health Law concentration, she is a representative of Seton Hall's Health Law Forum and is presently interning at the Community Health Law Project, a New Jersey based nonprofit advocacy and legal services organization, working on issues relating to the Affordable Care Act and grant writing.]

As Health Reform Watch author Jae W. Joo wrote back in 2010 , studies have shown a “woeful lack of communication (and a wide gap in perception) between hospital staff physicians and ‘their’ patients.” Chaplain Sharon Hindle, oncology chaplain and educator at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, knows this woe all too well.  Hindle began in 1998 working as a hospital chaplain to comfort patients during the most traumatic period of their lives.  She soon found out, however, that patients not only need comfort, but they also need advocacy.

“I end up being a liaison between the doctors and the patients,” Hindle stated in an interview with Health Reform Watch. “I really felt that people were the most vulnerable and the least capable at this point in their life, because they don’t know the language and they’re making a life altering decision. I became a chaplain because I first wanted to become an advocate.”

Hindle places blame on medical education, “There are very few opportunities where [medical students] are being told how to communicate the medical information that they have to the patient.”  In response to this, Hindle began running workshops for medical students, interns, and fellows in order to address patient concerns. Through these workshops, she said, “We’re teaching physicians to be engaging, loving, caring, and intuitive.”

These workshops teach skills such as how to have a family meeting, how to deliver bad news, and how to train the patient to provide self-care. In these workshops, Hindle stresses two questions physicians should be asking their patients, the first being “Can you tell me about your medical situation?” From this, physicians can gather what the patient, or the family member if the patient is not conscious, understands and assess their intellectual, language, and emotional skills.  Hindle said, “That question gives you their starting line- that way you don’t offend, patronize, or start way ahead of the patient or family’s capability to comprehend.”  She described that doctors sometimes think that a patient is experiencing denial if they do not seem to understand the gravity of the situation, when in fact, the patient simply does not comprehend his or her diagnosis.

The second question is “Do you have any questions before we begin this conversation?” Hindle said that asking this question before communicating medical information allows the patient and the family to “Open-up their listening skills because they’re no longer ruminating about what questions they need to ask.”

At the cardiac and neurology intensive care units workshop held in Robert Wood, she meets with students during their one-month rotation.  Hindle teaches the importance of asking these two questions and holds a discussion on a current case where students are having difficulty communicating to the patient and/or the patient’s family. At the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), she participates on a panel that includes a social worker, a physician, and a psychiatrist.  The panel reviews a case and each professional discusses their role in interacting with the patient. Students may then ask questions.

There are also opportunities for students to participate in small groups reviewing a mock case study with an attending physician and professor at UMDNJ and a professional considered trained in verbal skills, like Hindle. In review of these mock scenarios, Hindle says, “When you are telling someone that they have a life-threatening or life-ending illness, it’s terrifying because you don’t know how the patient and the family is going to react, so it sets-up a situation where maybe these young medical students try to dance around it and make it seem less catastrophic than it is.  It’s important for them to practice the words coming out of their mouth.”

Hindle finds that family practice and oncology are probably the most engaged specialties in running these workshops.  She labels these types of fields as “relational,” because the physician may have a relationship with this patient over a lifetime, which is why she stresses the value of communication.  Hindle contrasts these types of fields with specialties such as surgery and orthopedics, where a patient may have only a short-term relationship with a doctor.  She therefore believes there is less of a need for refined communication skills with this second group. Hindle said, “If I need brain surgery, I don’t care if the guy’s a jerk, I just need him to do this brain surgery once.  I just need him to be the best brain surgeon in the world.  But If I need a physician that I’m going to have a relationship with, there needs to be a symbiotic relationship where there’s trust.  Trust that I’m heard.”

If patients do not feel that a symbiotic relationship is present, Hindle strongly encourages patients to speak up. “As a patient, you need to be your own advocate,” Hindle said.  She continues, “If, in fact, you do not believe you are being heard, you need to speak up until you believe you’ve been heard.  Nobody is going to know your body as well as you.  It’s terrible, but you’re a consumer.”

Other particular areas which Hindle believes need to be addressed are: teaching physicians how to cope with loss, failure, and rejection. She believes there is a need to have an appropriate connection with a patient while not becoming emotionally involved.

In the broad view, Hindle understands that good communication with a doctor can have a profound impact on the patient’s physical well-being and recovery. Hindle said, “My feeling is that our body only has so much energy. [...] If you feel you’ve been heard by your medical team, it really alleviates stress.  Your body can now use all of that towards healing.” In close, Hindle continues to feel encouraged about the strengthening of patient-doctor communication, “In the ten years I’ve been at Robert Wood, I’ve seen a tremendous difference in the patient perception on communication.  They see that on the whole, doctors are communicating better and they really do care.”

Chaplain Sharon Hindle is an oncology chaplain and educator at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  She also volunteers her expertise at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.  Hindle has a blog entitled “Taken Oasis” (  She was also recently interviewed by Inside Jersey and a video interview is soon to appear on Robert Wood Johnson’s You Tube channel. Hindle considers Robert Buckman’s techniques in his book, “How to Break Bad News: A Guide for Health Care Professionals,” the gold standard for doctor-patient communication. She also notes Christina M. Puchalski, MD and Harold Koenig, MD as important voices in the field.


Big Brother Will Make You Wash Your Hands (Which may Be a Good Thing)

statue_of_giant_hands_in_hokkaidoI’ve written before here about hand-washing (or should I say, not-hand-washing) among hospital staff within the context of the wider issues of infection, avoidable patient harm, death and malpractice.

I noted prior that the New York Times had observed that a study of eight New York hospitals and hand washing showed “low compliance rates, which ranged from about 30 percent to 70 percent at individual hospitals….”  And that

Findings of shockingly poor hand-washing compliance are not new in hospitals. Other studies have produced comparable figures, and the stories of fatal consequences have become tragically routine.

The disease control agency estimates there are 1.7 million infection cases a year in hospitals and that 99,000 patients die after contracting them (although infection may not be the sole cause). It projects the cost of treating those patients at $20 billion a year.

In response, I suppose, we have this. A study by Armellino D., et al., entitled “Using high-technology to enforce low-technology safety measures: the use of third-party remote video auditing and real-time feedback in healthcare.”

I’ll save you the commentary and just go straight to the Abstract listed over at Medscape with a hat-tip to Natural News and Dr. William R. Jarvis (further details of study, plus video). Truth is, I really don’t know how to feel about this.

Armellino D, Hussain E, Schilling ME, Senicola W, Eichorn A, Dlugacz Y, Farber BF.


Department of Epidemiology, North Shore University Hospital, Manhasset, NY, USA.



Hand hygiene is a key measure in preventing infections. We evaluated healthcare worker (HCW) hand hygiene with the use of remote video auditing with and without feedback.


The study was conducted in an 17-bed intensive care unit from June 2008 through June 2010. We placed cameras with views of every sink and hand sanitizer dispenser to record hand hygiene of HCWs. Sensors in doorways identified when an individual(s) entered/exited. When video auditors observed a HCW performing hand hygiene upon entering/exiting, they assigned a pass; if not, a fail was assigned. Hand hygiene was measured during a 16-week period of remote video auditing without feedback and a 91-week period with feedback of data. Performance feedback was continuously displayed on electronic boards mounted within the hallways, and summary reports were delivered to supervisors by electronic mail.


During the 16-week prefeedback period, hand hygiene rates were less than 10% (3933/60 542) and in the 16-week postfeedback period it was 81.6% (59 627/73 080). The increase was maintained through 75 weeks at 87.9% (262 826/298 860).


The data suggest that remote video auditing combined with feedback produced a significant and sustained improvement in hand hygiene.


Of Drug and Device and a Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Law, a mosaic by Fredrick Dielman (1847-1935)

Law, a mosaic by Fredrick Dielman (1847-1935)

As much as I write about medical malpractice, it seems only fair that I devote a post and direct our fair readers to the other side of the bar: The Drug and Device blog put out by a number of Dechert, LLP attorneys involved in pharmaceutical and medical device product liability litigation– from the defense side– And  Writing in Their Individual Capacities (yes, I read the disclaimer– which is itself a piece of art).

I don’t know that our non-law-based readers would find the site of much interest, but for those of you who do have a legal background– it’s really quite good– and rather funny (though it doesn’t hurt if you have a taste for the acerbic). And I’m not just saying this because today’s post I so enjoyed turned out to have a hat tip to former classmate and worthy opponent Lincoln Wilson at the bottom of it. The blog is good. And if you’re a lawyer– or a law professor– today’s post should be disquieting for you.

The post, entitled “Another Homework Failure By Plaintiffs,” is about a suit against Endo Pharmaceuticals  re: Darvocet and how the plaintiffs cause of action burst into flames when it saw the light of a federal judge– for lack of personal jurisdiction. The article points out (pointedly) that the court notes that although the burden of showing jurisdiction is “relatively slight,” plaintiff’s offered no facts. None. Plaintiffs asserted that Endo, which purchased three entities (which still now exist) that had formerly produced the drug in question, “may have assumed responsibility for the acts…” and claimed the court needed to find personal jurisdiction based on the facts. The court:

But what “facts”? The portion of the complaint relied upon by the plaintiffs merely implies that the Endo Defendants “may have” somehow assumed the liabilities of their subsidiaries; the only factual assertion [plaintiff's allegation] contains is that the plaintiffs do not have the information they need to establish personal jurisdiction.  Thus, even if the plaintiffs were permitted to stand on their pleadings, they would fall woefully short of the necessary prima facie showing.

I think that’s going to leave a mark.

I said above that if you were a law professor or a lawyer you would find the Drug and Device post disquieting. But maybe I was hasty with regard to other lawyers. Although there is great value in a learned bar, the value of an unprepared opponent is, I suppose, inestimable. At least in the short run.

Having said that, if you have a few minutes, check out the Drug and Device blog article– and the slip opinion of the case they’ve conveniently provided. It’s worth it. From a stand point of pedagogy, it may not be as useful as the numerous Texas appeals filed late resulting in execution, but it could certainly function as a cautionary tale.


Models of Patient Safety

pasquale_frank_lg1If one jumbo jet crashed in the US each day for a week, we’d expect the FAA to shut down the industry until the problem was figured out. But in our health care system, roughly 250 people die each day due to preventable error. A vice president at a health care quality company says that “If we could focus our efforts on just four key areas — failure to rescue, bed sores, postoperative sepsis, and postoperative pulmonary embolism — and reduce these incidents by just 20 percent, we could save 39,000 people from dying every year.” The aviation analogy has caught on in the system, as patient safety advocate Lucian Leape noted in his classic 1994 JAMA article, Error in Medicine. Leape notes that airlines have become far safer by adopting redundant system designs, standardized procedures, checklists, rigid and frequently reinforced certification and testing of pilots, and extensive reporting systems. Advocates like Leape and Peter Provonost have been advocating for adoption of similar methods in health care for some time, and have scored some remarkable successes.

But the aviation model has its critics. The very thoughtful finance blogger Ashwin Parameswaran argues that, “by protecting system performance against single faults, redundancies allow the latent buildup of multiple faults.” While human expertise depends on an intuitive grasp, or mapping, of a situation, perhaps built up over decades of experience, technologized control systems privilege algorithms that are supposed to aggregate the best that has been thought and calculated. The technology is supposed to be the distilled essence of the insights of thousands, fixed in software. But the persons operating in the midst of it are denied the feedback that is a cornerstone of intuitive learning. Parameswaram offers several passages from James Reason’s book Human Error to document the resulting tension between our ability to accurately model systems and an intuitive understanding of them. Reason states:

[C]omplex, tightly-coupled and highly defended systems have become increasingly opaque to the people who manage, maintain and operate them. This opacity has two aspects: not knowing what is happening and not understanding what the system can do. As we have seen, automation has wrought a fundamental change in the roles people play within certain high-risk technologies. Instead of having ‘hands on’ contact with the process, people have been promoted “to higher-level supervisory tasks and to long-term maintenance and planning tasks.” In all cases, these are far removed from the immediate processing. What direct information they have is filtered through the computer-based interface. And, as many accidents have demonstrated, they often cannot find what they need to know while, at the same time, being deluged with information they do not want nor know how to interpret.

A stark choice emerges. We can either double down on redundant, tech-driven systems, or we can try to restore smaller scale scenarios where human judgment actually stands a chance of comprehending the situation. We will need to begin to recognize this regulatory apparatus as a “process of integrating human intelligence with artificial intelligence.” (For more on that front, the recent “We, Robot” conference at U. Miami is also of great interest.)

Another recent story emphasized the importance of filters in an era of information overload, and the need to develop better ways of processing complex information. Kerry Grens’s article “Data Diving” emphasizes that “what lies untapped beneath the surface of published clinical trial analyses could rock the world of independent review.”

[F]or the most part, [analysts] rely simply on publications in peer-reviewed journals. Such reviews are valuable to clinicians and health agencies for recommending treatment. But as several recent studies illustrate, they can be grossly limited and misleading. . . . [There is] an entire world of data that never sees the light of publication. “I have an evidence crisis,” [says Tom Jefferson of the Cochrane Collaboration]. “I’m not sure what to make of what I see in journals.” He offers an example: one publication of a Tamiflu trial was seven pages long. The corresponding clinical study report was 8,545 pages. . . .

Clinical study reports . . . are the most comprehensive descriptions of trials’ methodology and results . . . . They include details that might not make it into a published paper, such as the composition of the placebo used, the original protocol and any deviations from it, and descriptions of all the measures that were collected.  But even clinical study reports include some level of synthesis. At the finest level of resolution are the raw, unabridged, patient-level data. Getting access to either set of results, outside of being trial sponsors or drug regulators, is a rarity. Robert Gibbons, the director of the Center for Health Statistics at the University of Chicago, had never seen a reanalysis of raw data by an independent team until a few years ago, when he himself was staring at the full results from Eli Lilly’s clinical trials of the blockbuster antidepressant Prozac.

There will be a growing imperative to open up all of the data as concerns about the reliability of publications continue to grow.


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