Quality & Patient Safety

Quick, cheap, and effective: Oral care makes serious dent in hospital-acquired pneumonia cases

Patient Safety Monitor, February 1, 2017

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If you work in healthcare, then you’re probably aware that there’s room for improvement. You’re also probably aware of the deluge of strategies, solutions, recommendations, and guidance on enhancing quality and patient safety—all of which require time, money, equipment, metrics, and manpower you may not have. But one patient safety improvement project is as simple—and as cheap—as it gets: having patients brush their teeth to prevent pneumonia. This is done with a regular toothbrush in the morning, in the evening, and after meals.

Multiple hospitals and studies have found that through this simple intervention, they were able to reduce their non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia (NV-HAP) rates by 40% to 60%, sometimes even more. And since hospitals have to pay out of pocket for many hospital-acquired infections (HAI), this program not only improves patient safety, but may improve the bottom line.

Oral care and pneumonia
Although a lot of focus is put on infections caused by devices such as ventilators, central lines, and catheters, those only account for 25% of HAIs. Meanwhile, NV-HAP cases occur in every type of medical unit and are more common than the well-known issues of central line–associated bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections. While NV-HAP carries the same mortality rate as ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP), only 38% of hospital pneumonia cases fall into the latter category.

The first studies linking improved oral care and pneumonia prevention came out of long-term care facilities in the late 1990s. However, this phenomenon hasn’t been as well researched in other care settings.

This is an excerpt from a member only article. To read the article in its entirety, please login or subscribe to Patient Safety Monitor.

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