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Software Could Curtail NZ Hospital Superbugs

Software Could Curtail NZ Hospital Superbugs

A new surveillance software in use in hospitals worldwide could help nip NZ hospital superbug outbreaks in the bud.

In August-September 2008 Dunedin Hospital struggled to control Norovirus. More recently North Shore Hospital reported a problem with ESBL, and Waikato (June) and Tokoroa (August) Hospitals documented severe Norovirus outbreaks. The Dunedin Hospital outbreak alone was reported as costing $276,000.

But new software, called ICNet, developed in the UK starting 2001, and brought to New Zealand by Sysmex recently, could better manage those outbreaks saving precious health dollars and improving patient care. New Zealand hospitals do not routinely use this type of software.

Used by 1000 hospitals worldwide, ICNet is being offered here to private and public hospitals to help control hospital infections. Purpose-built for hospital superbug management, it is known as case management and surveillance software. It works by noting and flagging unrelated issues using ‘rules’ and matching fractured information from different sources. ICNet collates information in a ‘dashboard’ allowing infections to be identified and controls put in place quickly. It can also prevent infections by flagging carriers being admitted to hospital.

“The issues NZ hospitals have faced recently could have been identified and managed earlier, and therefore better controlled,” says Mark Cox, Director Business Development at Sysmex.

Infection issues can arise when, for instance, a patient operated on develops a superbug (or other persistent infection). “His room-mates may have long gone to other wards or been discharged. Yet they may have spread the infection or have the infection,” says Mr Cox. “Many hospital systems can’t join together the information dots immediately, recognising the start of a potential outbreak, until the hospital has an escalating problem. With superbugs, time is of the essence, and manual collation and cross checking is too slow. It can be days before a problem is recognised.

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“Surveillance systems like ICNet flag issues in seconds and they’re far less labour intensive. Once a superbug takes hold it’s hugely expensive for the hospital to contain and fix.

“ICNet takes feeds from laboratories, clinical information about patients and administration information. It then says, in real time, “look! A patient on a ward has MRSA, and you’re transferring his room mate to another ward.” Infection control measures can be implemented immediately and decisions made.”

The size of hospital infection issues, says Mr Cox, is considerable and growing worldwide. US studies have shown that ‘hospital acquired infections’ affect more than 2 million patients annually, costing more than $4.5 billion and probably resulting in 100,000 deaths a year#. A study in New Zealand in 2003 put costs at $137 million.*

In August, Sysmex brought to New Zealand Clare Johnstone, Infection Control Nurse for the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London. The College runs five hospitals such as Hammersmith, St Mary’s and Charing Cross. Ms Johnstone said that after implementing ICNet in 2006, clinical case management and surveillance at ward, directorate and trust level has become much more efficient.

“The surveillance system is a tool to assist in the prevention of relapses and cross infection as well as clinical case management. Any reduction in ‘healthcare acquired infections’ has the potential to save infection control time allowing infection control nurses more time in the clinical area to provide support and education, ultimately improving patient safety. There is also the potential to generate substantial financial savings with reductions in cross infection.”

Mr Cox said that he was hopeful New Zealand DHBs, private hospitals and resthomes would take up the software which usually costs under $100,000 (Note: costs do vary considerably depending upon set up) “Any outlay in cost can be justified by controlling just one outbreak,” he says.

“Furthermore, the Minister of Health has indicated DHBs will be increasingly required to report against health targets. One of those targets could well be the rate of ‘hospital acquired infections’. At a time when hospital superbug infections are on the rise dramatically, this software delivers directly to lowering these.”


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