Infection control personnel are required to develop institutional guidelines for prevention of transmission of multidrugresistant organisms, especially methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, within health care settings. Such guidelines include performance of active surveillance cultures for patients after admission to health care facilities or to high-risk-patient care units, to detect colonization with target multidrug-resistant organisms. Patients who are colonized with these potential pathogens are placed under contact precautions to prevent transmission to other patients. Such screening programs are labor and resource intensive and raise the following ethical considerations: (1) autonomy versus communitarianism, (2) indication for informed consent for obtainment of active surveillance cultures, and (3) identification of the appropriate payer. Relevant infection control, public health, and ethical principles are reviewed in an effort to provide guidance for ethical decision making when designing a multidrug-resistant organism control program that includes active surveillance cultures and contact precautions. We conclude that a program of active surveillance cultures and contact precautions is part of standard medical care that requires patient education but not a specific informed consent and that the cost for such programs should be assigned to the health care institution, not the individual patient.
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