The best hospitals have more superbugs. Do patients have a right to know?

The premier hospitals tend to have the most superbugs — they also have the best experts.

MATT MCCARTHY: One of the things that's really interesting that hospitals are wrestling with now is how to talk about superbugs. And the reason for this is that patients are fearful every time they hear that there is a superbug inside of their local hospital. But the irony here is that many of the best hospitals see the most superbugs. They have the most sophisticated diagnostic techniques.

They have the most powerful antibiotics. And they often care for the sickest patients. They also have the experts who know how to treat these. And so a controversial ethical issue right now is how much disclosure should hospitals have talking about the superbugs that they find within their walls. Patient advocates say that this is like a restaurant having an outbreak of food poisoning and that we have an obligation to be transparent in what we're finding.

Many experts disagree with that because just because there is a superbug inside of a hospital doesn't mean that it infected anyone. It doesn't mean it was spread around. And in fact, the infection may have been cured very easily. So what we're trying to figure out now is how best do we talk about these things. Sometimes patients call people from the Department of Health and say, does a hospital or a nursing facility have superbugs. Is it infested? Can I send my mother there?

And we wrestle with how much to tell patients because, if the best hospitals have the most superbugs, what do we say? And I'm all for transparency, but I want to make sure that we couple that with education. What I want patients to understand is that a world class hospital may have more superbugs, but they've also got the world-class medical treatments and the experts who know how to treat you.

So figuring out how we talk about this in an informed way is one of the areas that intersect between my two interests of infectious diseases and medical ethics.

  • Many of the best hospitals also have superbugs within their walls.
  • One medical dilemma is whether to tell patients about a superbug's presence: will it inhibit them from seeking care?
  • The best hospitals may have the most superbugs, but they also have the experts who know how to treat patients sickened by bacteria, and possess some of the most powerful antibiotics around.

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