Protecting patients or impeding improvement?

The lede:

More than 100 Michigan intensive-care units cut their average catheter-related bloodstream infection rate 66% by implementing a simple checklist of proven infection-control practices such as hand washing and removing unnecessary catheters.

But the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office for Human Research Protections last fall ordered the hospitals to suspend collecting data documenting the research project’s success because researchers did not properly comply with federal regulations aimed at safeguarding patients.

Now each participating hospital must seek institutional review board approval for the project, which was organized by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and whose results were published in the Dec. 28, 2006, New England Journal of Medicine.

The study already has been cited more than 20 times in other medical journals, with experts in one patient safety publication dubbing it an “instant classic.” The safety effort reduced the median infection rate to zero per 1,000 catheter days, compared with national rates as high as 5.2 per 1,000 catheter days.

The whole shebang.