BACKGROUND: Although urinary tract infection (UTI) is the most common hospital-acquired infection in the United States, to our knowledge, no national data exist describing what hospitals in the United States are doing to prevent this patient safety problem. We conducted a national study to examine the current practices used by hospitals to prevent hospital-acquired UTI. METHODS: We mailed written surveys to infection control coordinators at a national random sample of nonfederal US hospitals with an intensive care unit and >or=50 hospital beds (n=600) and to all Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals (n=119). The survey asked about practices to prevent hospital-acquired UTI and other device-associated infections. RESULTS: The response rate was 72%. Overall, 56% of hospitals did not have a system for monitoring which patients had urinary catheters placed, and 74% did not monitor catheter duration. Thirty percent of hospitals reported regularly using antimicrobial urinary catheters and portable bladder scanners; 14% used condom catheters, and 9% used catheter reminders. VA hospitals were more likely than non-VA hospitals to use portable bladder scanners (49% vs. 29%; P=.001), condom catheters (46% vs. 12%; P=.001), and suprapubic catheters (22% vs. 9%; P=.001); non-VA hospitals were more likely to use antimicrobial urinary catheters (30% vs. 14%; P=.001). CONCLUSIONS: Despite the strong link between urinary catheters and subsequent UTI, we found no strategy that appeared to be widely used to prevent hospital-acquired UTI. The most commonly used practices--bladder ultrasound and antimicrobial catheters--were each used in fewer than one-third of hospitals, and urinary catheter reminders, which have proven benefits, were used in <10% of US hospitals.