When people gripe about the American health care system, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Institute of Medicine report in 2000 that estimated as many as 98,000 people a year die from infections they acquired in the hospital.

Of course, the patients in hospitals tend to be sick to begin with, arriving with infections and compromised immune systems. That’s the hospital industry version.

The real version, according to three new studies published in the American Journal of Medical Quality, is that these infections are not about inevitable germs but mostly about behavior; doctors, nurses and other medical staff not paying enough attention to hospital hygiene.

In other words, they don’t wash their hands!

But along with pathogens, change is in the air. One of the studies got right to the point: Making patients sicker and lengthening their stays is a money-losing proposition for hospitals. And if they don’t always care about patients, hospital administrators always care about the bottom line.

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