Private ICU rooms could slash infection rates

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: April 22nd, 2011
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A stay in the hospital can be rather unpleasant to begin with. But add on the inconvenience of sharing a room with a stranger, and it gets even worse. Now a new study suggests that having a private room in a hospital intensive care unit isn’t just a luxury. In fact, it might be essential to your health.

Why? Infection rates. Currently, three out of every ten ICU patients contract some sort of infection during their hospital stay. This makes them sicker and adds time to their hospital visit… an average of eight or nine more days. Experts say this tacks on an additional three point five billion dollars in health care costs each year.

The solution, according to a team of researchers writing in the Archives of Internal Medicine, could be private ICU rooms. For their study, the scientists compared infection rates at Montreal General Hospital, which had a new ICU with exclusively single-occupancy rooms, with those at another nearby hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital. Royal Victoria had eight private ICU rooms but the remainder shared as many as six beds.

Between the years 2000 and 2005, the rate at which patients developed infections was fifty-four percent lower at the hospital with the private rooms. Just looking at MRSA, one of the most notorious hospital infections, the rate was forty-seven percent lower.

Patients at both hospitals saw an increase in the average length of stay during the five-year study. But the increase was ten percent smaller at the hospital with the private rooms. So not only might a private room be quieter, it also could be safer.

So how should patients protect themselves if they don’t have a private ICU room… or even if they do? Experts say the most important thing to do is to insist that everything that touches you, from medical equipment to health-care providers’ hands, is washed and sanitized.