Assessment of the accuracy and consistency in the application of standardized surveillance definitions: A summary of theAmerican Journal of Infection Controland National Healthcare Safety Network case studies, 2010-2016

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) surveillance definitions are the most widely used criteria for health care-associated infection (HAI) surveillance. NHSN participants agree to conduct surveillance in accordance with the NHSN protocol and criteria. To assess the application of these standardized surveillance specifications and offer infection preventionists (IPs) opportunities for ongoing education, a series of case studies, with questions related to NHSN definitions and criteria were published.


Beginning in 2010, case studies with multiple-choice questions based on standard surveillance criteria and protocols were written and published in the American Journal of Infection Control with a link to an online survey. Participants anonymously submitted their responses before receiving the correct answers.


The 22 case studies had 7,950 respondents who provided 27,790 responses to 75 questions during the first 6 years. Correct responses were selected 62.5% of the time (17,376 out of 27,290), but ranged widely (16%-87%). In a subset analysis, 93% of participants self-identified as IPs (3,387 out of 3,640), 4.5% were public health professionals (163 out of 3,640), and 2.5% were physicians (90 out of 3,640). IPs responded correctly (62%) more often than physicians (55%) (P = .006).


Among a cohort of voluntary participants, accurate application of surveillance criteria to case studies was suboptimal, highlighting the need for continuing education, competency development, and auditing.

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