VAP: Do you know it when you see it? (Again!)

There's a new paper on the utility (or lack thereof) of CDC's definition of ventilator-associated pneumonia. In this study 4 persons reviewed 50 cases of ventilated patients with respiratory deterioration >48 hours after intubation. Two reviewers were experienced infection preventionists who applied the CDC definition. A third IP used a modification of the CDC definition that was more quantitative, and the fourth reviewer was a physician board-certified in infectious diseases and critical care who used clinical judgment to define VAP. Using the standard definition, one IP assigned the VAP diagnosis to 11 patients and the other, 20 patients. The IP using the modified definition assigned 15 cases as VAP. The physician diagnosed VAP in 7 patients. The IPs agreed on 62% of cases (kappa=0.40). All 4 reviewers agreed on the VAP diagnosis in only 4 cases. This is not the first study to show how complex assigning the diagnosis of VAP can be.

Given that public reporting has raised the stakes to high levels, the CDC can no longer ignore this issue. Consumers cannot make choices on where to receive care if inter-hospital comparisons of infection rates are not valid. There needs to be a convening of IPs and hospital epidemiologists who use the definitions on a daily basis to thoroughly assess each of the HAI case definitions and begin to work on the development of new ones that will be fair to hospitals and helpful to consumers. Otherwise, it's garbage in, garbage out, and the entire concept of public reporting is undermined.


  1. Given the poor performance characteristics of the various pre-mortem diagnostic criteria for VAP (reviewed here by Klompas:, I don't think we should waste our time tracking VAP as a quality measure. Given the subjectivity of the definitions, and the pressure to reach "zero", it is inevitable that hospitals will demonstrate wonderful reductions in VAP incidence after they institute the IHI bundle--unfortunately, all the time and effort expended to demonstrate the reductions may do little to improve patient safety.


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