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Consumer Reports Health: Central-Line Infection Rates in Atlanta Hospitals Vary; One Hospital Reports Rates Up to 6 Times National Average; Some Hospitals Not Reporting

New online hospital ratings put infection rates and other patient safety information in the public eye

YONKERS, N.Y., Feb. 2 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Hospitals in the Atlanta area vary in terms of how well their intensive care units (ICUs) prevent central-line bloodstream infections, a cause of death, disability, and expense in our nations' hospitals that is largely preventable. On February 2, will post hospital infection rates for 12 Atlanta area hospitals that voluntarily reported their infection rates. Bloodstream infections cause at least 30 percent of the estimated 99,000 annual hospital-infection-related deaths in the U.S. and add on average $42,000 to the hospital bills of each ICU patient who gets a central line-infection.


In the Atlanta area, only one of the 12 hospitals rated, Hamilton Medical Center, reported zero central line infections. Other hospitals with lower than average infection rates include: WellStar Kennestone Hospital reported a rate that is 61 percent better than the national average, meaning there were 61 percent fewer infections reported than the U.S. average for its mix of ICUs. Emory University Hospital reported 56 percent fewer infections than average; WellStar Cobb Hospital reported 54 percent fewer infections than average; and North Fulton Regional Hospital reported 51 percent fewer infections than average. Infection rates are for 2008.  

On the other end of the spectrum, several Atlanta hospitals reported alarmingly high infection rates: Dekalb Medical Center at Hillendale reported an infection rate that is 858 percent worse than the national average, and Eastside Medical Center reported a rate that is 126 percent worse than average. Other hospitals that stand out for their poor performance include: Dekalb Medical Center (71 percent worse than average) Cartersville Medical Center (48 percent worse than average); South Fulton Medical Center (32 percent worse than average); and Emory Crawford Long Hospital (29 percent worse than average).

"Infection rates can vary widely from hospital to hospital and even within the same hospital chain or system," said John Santa, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.  "Providing patients with infection rate information enables them to identify which hospitals are making patient safety a priority and which ones are not." According to a related investigative report in the March issue of Consumer Reports, of the 926 U.S. hospitals whose infection rates were analyzed by Consumer Reports Health, 105 hospitals tallied zero central line infections (listed online at  

"All hospitals should be aiming for zero infections," said Santa. "The procedures needed to eliminate ICU infections are simple, low-tech, and inexpensive, requiring a change of mindset and culture. All ICUs should be able to dramatically reduce if not eliminate these infections," continued Santa.    

The Consumer Reports online ratings are based on hospitals that publicly report their infection rates as a result of state laws and hospitals that voluntarily report to the Leapfrog Group, a Washington D.C. based nonprofit, works with large employers and purchasers of health care to measure and publicly report on hospital safety and quality in 41 states in the U.S. ( Citizen activists, including those working with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, have helped enact laws in 27 states, forcing hospitals to publicly disclose their infection rates. To date, 17 of those states have made that information publicly available.  

Georgia does not require hospitals to report data on these types of infections. "State lawmakers should mandate hospital infection reporting so all Georgians can find out whether their local hospital is doing a good job keeping patients safe from these sometimes deadly infections," said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project (  

Consequently, the Consumer Reports ratings for Georgia hospitals are based on Leapfrog data. "It is important to recognize that many hospitals demonstrate commitment to their communities by willingly reporting safety data -- warts and all. Consumers should be most wary of hospitals that are asked to report by their patients, and refuse," said Leah Binder, CEO of the Leapfrog Group. Binder noted that several hospitals in Atlanta declined to provide their data to Leapfrog during the reporting period, including Grady Memorial Hospital and Piedmont Hospital.  A complete list of non-reporting hospitals can be found at

A Central Line Associated Bloodstream Infection (CLABSI) is a type of infection caused by the presence of a central line catheter.  A "central line" or "central catheter" is a tube that is placed in a large vein in the neck, chest, or arm to enable the rapid administration of fluids, bloods, or medications. These long, flexible catheters empty out in or near the heart so that the circulatory system can deliver what's put in them within seconds.  A bloodstream infection can occur when bacteria or other germs travel down the central line and enter the bloodstream, making the central line's biggest virtue as a quick pathway for delivering the essentials into its biggest vice.  

Since the risk of infection varies substantially across different types of ICUs, the Consumer Reports ratings are using what is known as a "standardized infection ratio," taking into account the unique mix of ICU types in a given hospital by comparing the hospital infection data for each ICU to the national average for each such ICU type published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For instance, the average infection rate for cardiac ICUs nationwide is 2 per 1000 central line days (that's the total number of days that patients are on central lines), while surgical ICUs average 2.3 infections per 1000 central line days. So an infection rate 100% above average would be 4 per 1000 days for a cardiac ICU, but 4.6 per 1000 days for a surgical ICU.

The Consumer Reports web site ( currently rates more than 3,600 hospitals in the U. S. based on several criteria including patient satisfaction, intensity of care, and steps to prevent infection. This last measure, which is different from the CLABSI infection rates, assesses how well a hospital follows correct procedures to avoid surgical infections.      

For a limited time,  is offering a 30-day free trial at The cost for a year's subscription is $19.  

About the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center

Consumers have come to trust Consumer Reports' ratings of thousands of products and services for the expertise and independence they represent. The Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center uses similar approaches to produce ratings tables, selecting the best sources of research to rate health care services, drugs, devices, institutional providers, and eventually physicians and other practitioners. The Health Ratings Center ( currently provides Best Buy Drugs (BBD) ratings on prescription medications for more than 20 common medical conditions; Ratings of more than 3,600 U.S. hospitals; Ratings for a wide array of healthy living products from fitness equipment to sunscreens; up-to-date safety information and effectiveness Ratings for thousands of natural medicines; and treatment options for more than 200 conditions and diseases.    

MARCH 2010

Consumers Union 2010. The material above is intended for legitimate news entities only; it may not be used for commercial or promotional purposes. Consumer Reports® is published by Consumers Union, an expert, independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves. To achieve this mission, we test, inform, and protect. To maintain our independence and impartiality, Consumers Union accepts no outside advertising, no free test samples, and has no agenda other than the interests of consumers. Consumers Union supports itself through the sale of our information products and services, individual contributions, and a few noncommercial grants.

SOURCE Consumer Reports

SOURCE Consumer Reports
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