Yesterday, I saw this graphic linked by Kevin Drum, purporting to show that the US hospitals are killing their patients in horrifying numbers:
The thing set off huge alarm bells. Not because I think that it's impossible that US hospitals are dropping the ball on hospital acquired infections--indeed, my column next month, which is already at the printers, will be on antibiotic resistance. And hospital procedures like hand-washing play a huge role in the spread of resistant infection.
I guess it was too good to check, so I didn't check it. But a reader emailed this morning to suggest that this was preposterous, and he seems to be right. I checked the references at the bottom of the MBCC chart, and none of them seemed to back up their numbers. What's more, a few years ago the CDC estimated 99,000 deaths per year out of 1.7 million HAIs, a mortality rate of 5.8%. For the EU, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimates 146,000 deaths per year out of 4.5 million HAIs (see p. 27), a mortality rate of 3.3%.
That's a modest difference, and it gets even more modest when you read more about these estimates, which are very, very rough and depend strongly on exactly how you count infections and how you attribute deaths. You can read much more about it in this WHO report if you're interested. The chart below, from the WHO report (with U.S. figures added from here), shows HAI prevalence rates in various high-income countries, and on this score the U.S. does pretty well. Most likely, the U.S. is about average both in prevalence of HAI and in mortality rates from HAI. Apologies for the error.
The problem of hospital acquired infection is quite bad enough without inflating it to ludicrous proportions. I have no idea why medicalbillingandcodingcertification.net wants to turn a collection of deliberate half-truths into an infographic, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves.