CDC Finds Outpatient Surgery Centers Fail to Prevent Patient Infections

According to a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, two-thirds of the nearly 70 surgery centers in three states had at least one serious lapse in preventing infections. Furthermore, according to the American Medical Association, if the findings were extrapolated on a national level, several million patients per day may be exposed to potentially lethal infections at the 5,000 day-surgery centers in the United States. Overall, the researchers discovered that infection-control errors are common at U.S. outpatient surgical centers, and that the risk of infection is higher at outpatient centers when compared to hospitals.

Outpatient surgical centers or day-surgery centers are growing in popularity. Surgery at these centers is often cheaper for the patient and the insurance company simply because there is no built-in expense for overnight stays. Even when a patient does not require an overnight stay at an inpatient facility such as a traditional hospital, the overall costs are still higher when compared to outpatient surgical centers. However, outpatient centers do not treat for all physical problems, instead they focus on treating individuals with minor problems that require simple surgeries. For example, typical surgeries that might occur at outpatient surgical centers include colonoscopy or vasectomy.

While it may seem convenient to have a quicker and cheaper surgery at an outpatient center, the risk of infection may not be worth the cost savings. The researchers at the Centers for Disease Control conducted random inspections of 70 surgery centers in three states, including Maryland, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. One of the most common problems that contributed to the spread of infections, such as hepatitis C, was the use of single-dose medication vials for more than one patient—a problem found in 28% of the inspections. Other problems included lapses in washing hands, wearing sterile gloves, and failing to sterilize surgical instruments. Overall, 67% of the centers had at least one lapse in infection control and 57% were cited for deficiencies.