State doctors' group fights MRSA screening bill
The Washington State Medical Association, which represents more than 9,000 physicians, is battling a proposed bill that would require doctors to screen vulnerable patients for a potentially deadly germ called MRSA.
Seattle Times staff reporters
The message from Washington physicians to state legislators could not be more blunt: Go away.
The Washington State Medical Association, which represents more than 9,000 physicians, is fighting a bill that would require doctors to screen vulnerable patients for a potentially deadly germ called MRSA.
Statewide, the number of hospital patients infected with MRSA has skyrocketed, a recent Seattle Times investigation found. But the medical association opposes any attempt by lawmakers to dictate how doctors attack the pathogen, said spokeswoman Jennifer Hanscom.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, said the evidence is clear that doctors and hospitals have repeatedly failed to protect patients from the antibiotic-resistant germ MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.
Campbell's legislation would require screening for many surgical patients, such as those undergoing cardiac or joint-replacement procedures, and those admitted to intensive-care units.
The screening, done with a nasal swab, is painless and costs about $20. Test results enable hospitals to isolate and treat patients who carry the germ or are infected.
Campbell's measure, House Bill 1525, was spurred by "Culture of Resistance," a Times investigation published in November that showed how hospitals often have ignored steps to control MRSA.
In the first comprehensive tracking of the germ, The Times found the number of hospitalized Washington patients infected with MRSA escalated over the past decade from 141 a year to 4,723.
Washington hospitals have adopted an inconsistent and haphazard array of infection-control measures to control MRSA's spread, The Times found.
"Doctors want to hide this stuff," said Campbell.
"We're talking about a test that takes a couple of minutes. The science that screening saves lives is incontrovertible."
Since 2007, four states — California, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — have passed laws that require hospitals to screen high-risk patients for MRSA infection or colonization.
Dozens of hospitals nationally have reported that uniform screening virtually eradicated MRSA infections among their patients.
But many Washington doctors and some hospital administrators claim there is conflicting scientific evidence that widespread screening is effective or necessary.
Washington's legislative battle is ground zero in a bitter national debate driven in large part by consumers demanding changes and heightened accountability from physicians and hospitals.
While the medical association opposes mandatory screening, hospital administrators do not. Washington State Hospital Association officials said they do not reject the idea of uniform screening standards.
However, they are concerned the bill requires hospitals to isolate patients infected or colonized with MRSA. Not all hospitals have enough private rooms to isolate every infected patient, said hospital association spokeswoman Cassie Sauer.
While Campbell's bill faces intense opposition, another bill introduced by Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, has cleared the Senate Health & Long-Term Care Committee and is moving closer to ratification.
Senate Bill 5500 would require hospitals to conduct periodic and limited MRSA screening within intensive-care units to determine if problems exist. That bill gives hospitals and doctors wide latitude in attacking infection rates.
The state medical association opposes that bill, too.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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