Dr. Bell

Q&A with CDC's Dr. Michael Bell

What is CDC doing to positively impact U.S. businesses and improve the safety of our healthcare system?

CDC is passionate about improving the safety of our nation’s healthcare system, but we cannot do it alone. We need to team up with businesses globally to bring innovations to patient safety that ensure our healthcare system is fail-proof. There are five key areas where CDC is helping healthcare facilities, doctors and nurses provide safer care for patients—helping ensure better options for healthcare purchasers and saving healthcare dollars. These include:

  • Tracking infections in more than 12,000 healthcare facilities to pinpoint where the problems are and better target prevention efforts through CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network;
  • Publishing evidenced-based guidelines that can prevent infections in the first place;
  • Leading novel research to find new strategies to protect patients and help innovators bring new products forward that improve healthcare;
  • Stopping outbreaks and sounding the alarm on emerging threats; and
  • Operating a world-class laboratory that can track drug-resistant threats and evaluate the role of the healthcare environment in infection transmission.

We know that preventing infections saves lives. We also know that there are a variety of innovative business strategies that could help boost our infection prevention challenges and address emerging threats. 

Are there specific public-private partnerships that are moving healthcare forward?

We are fortunate to be aligned with several partners who are leading the way in improving the safety of our healthcare system. For example, HCA recently helped CDC test new strategies for preventing drug-resistant threats including MRSA. Other novel CDC partnerships include the following:

  • Preventing Infections in Vulnerable Patients: CDC and the CDC Foundation are working with Amgen to prevent infections in cancer patients, particularly those who are going through chemotherapy in outpatient oncology clinics. CDC and the CDC Foundation are also launching a partnership with Lilly to improve the safety of injections in U.S. healthcare facilities.
  • Improving Infection Tracking: CDC teams up with healthcare IT vendors to help their next-generation products target federal payor requirements and provide seamless connectivity to national tracking systems.
  • Educating Clinicians: CDC is working with WebMD Health and Medscape to promote CDC evidence-based guidelines to clinicians and consumers. Our popular Expert Video Commentary Series on Medscape attracts tens of thousands of clinicians each week to hear CDC guidelines in a 3-minute video format. 
  • Providing Useable Information to Consumers: CDC has partnered for several years with Consumers Union patient advocates and Consumer Reports to improve CDC educational materials for healthcare consumers, resulting in greater data transparency so patients can become empowered advocates for their own care. 
  • Moving the Field Forward: CDC is partnering with over 100 professional organizations whose members are working to keep patients safe. These include infection preventionists, healthcare epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, hospitalists, hospital associations, long-term acute care organizations, dialysis facilities and providers and many others. Through regular meetings with these groups, they are ensuring that their membership gets up-to-date CDC recommendations while providing CDC with valuable on-the-ground feedback of infection prevent efforts across the country.

What is the importance of data for disease prevention? And what is CDC doing with its data?

You can’t prevent infections if you don’t know where they are occurring. Tracking infections can help better target prevention efforts. For instance, HCA’s home state—Tennessee—experienced high rates of healthcare-associated infections until health professionals were able to drill down using CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) and identify a couple of facilities (and specifically a couple of wards in those facilities) that were particularly vulnerable. The state health department was able to target its prevention efforts in these facilities and in one year, the overall infection rates in Tennessee dropped.

For clinicians and hospital executives, NHSN data means that every healthcare facility can see in real time how well they are preventing infections and where their hot spots are. For patients, NHSN improves healthcare transparency by providing a detailed look at infections occurring in their local medical facilities. CDC’s NHSN is now used by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to feed data to its Hospital Compare website, and will be used in the future on Dialysis Compare. Consumer Reports uses NHSN data for its annual hospital rating report. And 28 states and Washington, D.C. now have mandatory public reporting for healthcare-associated infections, allowing consumers to see how well their local hospitals are doing at keeping patients safe from infections.

How can private-sector businesses and corporations connect with CDC?

Business leaders can partner with CDC or the CDC Foundation to improve the safety of healthcare by contacting CDC at, or the CDC Foundation at Businesses are also welcome to attend CDC’s HAI Prevention advisory committee meetings which are open to the public and can provide insight into our guideline production process.


Photos of Dr. Michael Bell by Brad Newton