Friday, May 2, 2008

It's easy to make silly claims when you take numbers out of contexts

I often respect Mark Schauss, but when he shows his hatred of the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries his logic tends to go out the window.

Take for example his latest silly claim "stay out of hospitals to live longer." Ok, I guess one could make the argument that behaviors or genetic predispositions that lead one to a hospital stay would probably tend to shorten life. Fair enough. But rather than taking that fairly obvious argument, we are treated to a naked number: 99,000 deaths from nosocomial (hospital-related) infections per year. Rather than delve into that number, Mark simply calls it "unacceptable."

Granted, we all want to reduce that number. But let's take a closer look by reviewing the report on which Mark bases his post. (Link is a pdf.)
The infection rate per 1,000 patient-days was highest in ICUs (13.0), followed by high-risk nurseries (6.9), and well-baby nurseries (2.6).
Now, let's think about the claim that people are better off out of the hospital than in the hospital. The highest infection rates are in ICUs and high risk nurseries. Well-baby nurseries registered as well. Sounds to me like if someone needs to be in one of these places, they have some pretty serious problems, and infections considered, in the hospital is better than outside the hospital. I doubt that bolting from the ICU to avoid infection is going to, in the long run, lead to a longer life.

99,000 is a number we all want to go down to zero, and I suspect that more judicious use of antibiotics, solving the problems with overtired and overworked healthcare practitioners, and avoiding drug dispensing and therapeutic errors will all be part of the solution. But before we go making any silly conclusions based on this number, let's see what the problems really are and solve them rather than cut off our noses to spite our faces.