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Private ICU rooms in hospitals aren't just a luxury -- they could be a lifesaver

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January 11, 2011|By Karen Kaplan, Los Angeles Times
  • Patients in private ICU rooms got fewer infections than those who shared ICU rooms, according to a new study.
Patients in private ICU rooms got fewer infections than those who shared… (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles…)

Private rooms in hospital intensive care units are not just nicer for patients and their families – a new study shows they are safer, too.

Roughly three out of every 10 ICU patients wind up with some kind of infection during their hospital stay. Those infections make sick people sicker, keeping them in the hospital for an additional eight to nine days and adding an estimated $3.5 billion to the nation’s healthcare tab each year.

A $3.5-billion problem sure sounds daunting, but a new study suggests a straightforward solution: Make all ICU rooms private.

How much could this help? At Montreal General Hospital, the infection rate fell considerably after a new ICU opened with only single-occupancy rooms. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate at which ICU patients acquired Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Clostridium difficile and vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE) was 54% lower than in the ICU at nearby Royal Victoria Hospital, where eight rooms were private but other rooms shared as many as six beds. (The hospitals were ideal for comparison because both were part of the McGill University hospital system and shared the same director, physicians, nurse-to-patient ratio and infection control policies.)

When looking at MRSA alone, the infection rate was 47% lower at Montreal General than at Royal Victoria. For C. difficile, the rate was 43% lower. There were too few VRE cases to make a head-to-head comparison that was statistically significant, but the bacteria spread less at Montreal General and that contributed to the overall decline, the researchers reported.

In addition, the rate of infection with species of Acinetobacter was 53% lower at Montreal General. Cases of yeast infections fell by 51%, while infections with Enterobacter and Klebsiella species each fell by 38%.

Patients in both hospitals saw an increase in the average length of stay during the five years of the study, but that increase was 10% smaller at Montreal General.

The findings were reported Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“The drastic improvement in the physical facility of the ICU from common rooms to private rooms yielded a dramatic reduction in the transmission of bacteria and yeast,” the researchers concluded.

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