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Software That Helps Spot Sneaky Infections

Surveillance systems are now used in 45 percent of U.S. hospitals
Software That Helps Spot Sneaky Infections
Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The downside of seeking medical treatment is that it can make you sick. About 1 in 25 patients who visited a U.S. hospital in 2011 developed a hospital-acquired infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about 75,000 died as a result. Poor hand-washing or the wrong disinfectant can spread drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and C. difficile. Surgical wounds are vulnerable to infection. Medical devices like catheters, needles, and ventilators can lead to urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, or pneumonia.

Hospitals are trying to respond with data analysis software. About 45 percent of U.S. hospitals now use electronic surveillance systems (ESS), up from 25 percent in 2011, according to Lorren Pettit, a vice president for market research at not-for-profit health IT researcher HIMSS Analytics. The software scours electronic health records, lab and pharmacy reports, and other data to figure out whether a patient has developed an infection from hospital care. When a program identifies an infection, it automatically sends an alert to staff.