EHRs Help Researchers Identify Source of C. diff Infections

While there is plenty of legitimate criticism regrading electronic health records (EHRs), they can be a powerful tool in fighting hospital acquired infections, as one recent study shows.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) used an EHR to track the time and location stamps to map 435,000 patient location movements—and a total of 85,000 patients—throughout the UCSF Medical Center over a three-year period. Every time a patient is moved from one room to the next, whether it’s for a procedure or to another bed in the same hospital, the times and locations are noted in their chart, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

While this type of movement around a facility can make it harder to track infection outbreaks, the “EHR data allow us to track patients in time and space, but these data are not typically leveraged for infection control quality improvement efforts. We evaluated whether using a room within 24 hours of a patient with CDI [Clostridium difficile infection] was associated with increased risk of CDI in specific areas across our hospital,” the study authors wrote.

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a common and often deadly bacterium, particularly among elderly patients in nursing homes. UCSF’s analysis of patient data linked an emergency department CT scanner as a major contributor to C. diff infections in the hospital.

According to a Healthcare Informatics analysis of the JAMA study, “patients who entered that scanner within 24 hours after C. diff-positive patients were more than twice as likely to become infected with the bacterium themselves: 4 percent of the patients who were considered exposed in the scanner contracted C. diff within two months; the overall rate of infection for patients who passed through the scanner was 1.6 percent.”

Click here to read the abstract.

Mary Butler is the associate editor at The Journal of AHIMA.

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