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Network Analysis Shows Drug Resistant Infection Factors

Sean Barnes

Sean Barnes (University of Maryland)

Operations researchers and computer scientists at University of Maryland in College Park and American University in Washington, D.C. identified interpersonal network interactions that help spread antibiotic resistant infections through a hospital. Maryland business professors Sean Barnes and Bruce Golden, with American University information technology faculty Edward Wasil, published their findings earlier this month in the journal IIE Transactions on Healthcare Systems Engineering (paid subscription required).

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls antibiotic resistance a dangerous problem that’s growing quickly. The agency estimates at least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, leading directly to some 23,000 deaths. Moreover, says CDC, many of these infections are contracted in health care facilities and can be prevented. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals will begin incurring significant financial penalties in 2015 if they perform inadequately in controlling infections in their facilities.

Barnes’s team developed computer models that simulate the interactions between patients and health care workers, mainly nurses, in a hospital’s intensive care unit. Their models include factors such as the sharing of patients by staff, patient turnover, and the ability of health care staff to infect each other. Barnes notes in a university statement that sharing of patients among staff is a common practice: “The basic reality is that health care workers frequently cover for one another due to meetings, breaks, and sick leave.”

The researchers’ analysis shows staff sharing of patients interacts with the ratio of patients to staff and length of a patient’s stay to spread infections. The team recommends a network-based approach to assign staff to patients in a way that minimizes the number of nurses and physicians coming into contact with patients, especially high-risk patients.

Another emerging tool for hospitals to control infections are electronic health records. “The health care industry’s electronic records movement,” says Barnes, “could soon generate data that captures the structure of patient-health care worker interaction in addition to multiple competing, related factors that can affect multi-drug resistant organism transmission.”

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