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Intensifying Fatal Infection Fight

An influential hospital regulatory group said Wednesday it is stepping up efforts to reduce fatal infections contracted by hospital patients after criticism that it is not doing its job.

The announcement from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations comes after the Chicago Tribune alleged last year that tens of thousands of such deaths are not reported - and that the commission sometimes fails to ensure hospital quality and safety.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 2 million patients annually develop often-preventable infections while they are hospitalized and some 90,000 die.

Commission officials say part of the problem is that hospitals are not adequately reporting infection-linked deaths to the agency. After the Tribune's articles, the agency checked its 7-year-old database on patient safety reporting and found it included only 10 such reports involving 53 patients, commission president Dr. Dennis O'Leary said.

He said the "disproportionately low volume of reports" was possibly because many health care organizations do not consider the incidents as errors.

Increased reporting will provide "a potential treasure trove" of information about factors that lead to hospital-acquired infections and will help the commission develop prevention strategies, O'Leary said.

The commission evaluates and accredits nearly 17,000 U.S. health care organizations and programs, from hospitals and HMOs to nursing homes and clinical labs.

In a bulletin sent Wednesday, the commission urged compliance with new CDC hand-washing guidelines intended to reduce the spread of infections. The organization also has convened a panel of health care professionals to recommend ways the agency can reduce hospital-acquired infections.

The 20-member panel will meet in February and has been asked to come up with recommendations by summer.

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