In May of this year, Dr. Eric Pifer, chief medical officer at El Camino, began a concerted effort to reduce the instances of Clostridium difficile, or "C. diff," a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, fever, bowel irritation, and in severe cases has been known to be fatal.
Pifer, who attributes the spread of the infection to excessive use of antibiotics and certain heartburn medications, said the hospital has succeeded in cutting instances of the infection by more than half since 2009.
The hospital has accomplished this by adopting a much stricter policy around the prescription of antibiotics, which destroy the body's good bacteria, and certain medications — known as proton-pump inhibitors — that reduce levels of stomach acid. When friendly bacteria and stomach acids are depleted, it raises the possibility of contracting the disease, especially when one is living in a hospital setting.
Another tactic that Pifer is convinced played a part in reducing the rates of C. diff infection at El Camino is good old-fashioned hand-washing.
Antibiotic liquid hand sanitizer — used by medical professionals to keep their hands clean when moving from room to room in the hospital — kills many forms of bacteria, but it isn't strong enough to kill C. diff spores.
A quick wash with hand sanitizer is no longer considered sufficient in any case at El Camino Hospital, Pifer said.
Pifer is happy with the accomplishment but he said that the hospital must remain vigilant in battling C. diff infection. He said community awareness must be raised on the issue and that the hospital is exploring just how to spread the word. Too many primary care physicians are too quick to prescribe antibiotics and heartburn medications to patients who do not need them.
"I think the accomplishment is great," he said. "But we'll never be successful unless we start to get some culture change with physicians in our community."