Playing Nice: Infection Control and Clinical Microbiology in the Pay-For-Performance Era

As it's probably clear, it's been a great honor for me to work (and blog) with Dan and Mike over the past 8! years. One of the things that stands out when talking shop is their ability to see both sides of an argument even while pushing for the changes they support. Many times, their ability to see both sides clearly is possible because they've lived both sides - Mike has been an ID chief and hospital epidemiologist and is now our CQO and Dan is an ID chief, hospital epidemiologist and clinical microbiologist. You know, if I was a fellow or faculty member looking for a hospital epidemiologist position with great mentorship and support, I would move to Iowa...but I digress.

One specific area where understanding competing goals is critically important is the interplay between the increasing sensitivity and precision of microbiologic tests and the growing pressure to reduce HAI. As you can imagine, with 3% of CMS payments potentially at risk, anything that could impact HAI rates in a negative fashion is bound to be a flashpoint for hospital administrators. With that in mind, I point you to Dan's excellent commentary just published in JCM that examines the implications of advances in microbiological testing on HAI rates and provides specific suggestions for how hospital epi programs and clinical microbiology labs can work together to respond to these changes.

Initially, Dan provides three scenarios where changes in the micro lab could directly impact HAI rates (1) The effect of MALDI-TOF on CLABSI rates (2) The shift from EIA to nucleic-acid amplification tests (NAAT) for C. difficile detection and (3) Pressure to block urine culture ordering to reduce CAUTI. After delving into the current CMS reimbursement landscape, the unintended consequences of improvements in diagnostic testing and the use/misuse of surveillance definitions, he provides six valuable recommendations that clinical microbiology labs (CML) and infection prevention programs (IPP) should consider:

(1) CML leadership should select diagnostic approaches with the goal of improving individual patient outcomes

(2) Hospital and IPP leadership should not pressure the CML to alter diagnostic practices based on the need to demonstrate lower HAI rates for pay-for-performance measures. 

(3) Public health authorities (CDC/NHSN) must be proactive in adjusting HAI metrics to changing CML technology

For recommendations 4-6, you're gonna have to read his commentary. But a hint at #6 -  CML and IPP leadership need to collaborate and advocate for their needs, because, unlike at Iowa, both sides aren't always present in the mind of a single person.


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