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The National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) definitions are critical for standardizing healthcare-associated infection surveillance in US healthcare facilities. However, their use in accurately detecting healthcare-associated transmission (HAT) has not been measured. Using whole-genome sequencing surveillance data, we show that the NHSN has a sensitivity of 44.4% in detecting HAT.
Current methods of emergency-room–based syndromic surveillance were insufficient to detect early community spread of severe acute respiratory coronavirus virus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in the United States, which slowed the infection prevention and control response to the novel pathogen. Emerging technologies and automated infection surveillance have the potential to improve upon current practice standards and to revolutionize the practice of infection detection, prevention and control both inside and outside of healthcare settings. Genomics, natural language processing, and machine learning can be leveraged to improve identification of transmission events and aid and evaluate outbreak response. In the near future, automated infection detection strategies can be used to advance a true “Learning Healthcare System” that will support near–real-time quality improvement efforts and advance the scientific basis for the practice of infection control.
The rich and complex electronic health record presents promise for expanding infection detection beyond currently covered settings of care. Here, we review the “how to” of leveraging electronic data sources to expand surveillance to settings of care and infections that have not been the traditional purview of the National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN), including a discussion of creation of objective and reproducible infection surveillance definitions. In pursuit of a ‘fully automated’ system, we also examine the promises and pitfalls of leveraging unstructured, free-text data to support infection prevention activities and emerging technological advances that will likely affect the practice of automated infection surveillance. Finally, barriers to achieving a completely ‘automated’ infection detection system and challenges with intra- and interfacility reliability and missing data are discussed.
Whole-genome sequencing (WGS) has traditionally been used in infection prevention to confirm or refute the presence of an outbreak after it has occurred. Due to decreasing costs of WGS, an increasing number of institutions have been utilizing WGS-based surveillance. Additionally, machine learning or statistical modeling to supplement infection prevention practice have also been used. We systematically reviewed the use of WGS surveillance and machine learning to detect and investigate outbreaks in healthcare settings.
We performed a PubMed search using separate terms for WGS surveillance and/or machine-learning technologies for infection prevention through March 15, 2021.
Of 767 studies returned using the WGS search terms, 42 articles were included for review. Only 2 studies (4.8%) were performed in real time, and 39 (92.9%) studied only 1 pathogen. Nearly all studies (n = 41, 97.6%) found genetic relatedness between some isolates collected. Across all studies, 525 outbreaks were detected among 2,837 related isolates (average, 5.4 isolates per outbreak). Also, 35 studies (83.3%) only utilized geotemporal clustering to identify outbreak transmission routes. Of 21 studies identified using the machine-learning search terms, 4 were included for review. In each study, machine learning aided outbreak investigations by complementing methods to gather epidemiologic data and automating identification of transmission pathways.
WGS surveillance is an emerging method that can enhance outbreak detection. Machine learning has the potential to identify novel routes of pathogen transmission. Broader incorporation of WGS surveillance into infection prevention practice has the potential to transform the detection and control of healthcare outbreaks.
Identifying routes of transmission among hospitalized patients during a healthcare-associated outbreak can be tedious, particularly among patients with complex hospital stays and multiple exposures. Data mining of the electronic health record (EHR) has the potential to rapidly identify common exposures among patients suspected of being part of an outbreak.
We retrospectively analyzed 9 hospital outbreaks that occurred during 2011–2016 and that had previously been characterized both according to transmission route and by molecular characterization of the bacterial isolates. We determined (1) the ability of data mining of the EHR to identify the correct route of transmission, (2) how early the correct route was identified during the timeline of the outbreak, and (3) how many cases in the outbreaks could have been prevented had the system been running in real time.
Correct routes were identified for all outbreaks at the second patient, except for one outbreak involving >1 transmission route that was detected at the eighth patient. Up to 40 or 34 infections (78% or 66% of possible preventable infections, respectively) could have been prevented if data mining had been implemented in real time, assuming the initiation of an effective intervention within 7 or 14 days of identification of the transmission route, respectively.
Data mining of the EHR was accurate for identifying routes of transmission among patients who were part of the outbreak. Prospective validation of this approach using routine whole-genome sequencing and data mining of the EHR for both outbreak detection and route attribution is ongoing.
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