Infection control isn’t just about healthcare provider hygiene habits.
If you’re like me, you associate a trip to the hospital as a hopeful endeavor where seeking medical treatment will cure an existing ailment. After all, hospitals are healing venues designed to offer comfort and empathy to our conditions and hopefully provide a cure to what ails us. The mere thought that we could emerge from a hospital setting with an infection or virus while being treated for another condition seems far-fetched and unrealistic. As CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden recently stated, “No one should get sick while trying to get well.”
However, the modern reality is that it is no longer uncommon for a patient to contract an infection or illness while they are being treated for something else. Healthcare procedures can leave patients vulnerable to germs that lead to hospital-acquired infections (HAIs), which often spread from patients or medical personnel through poor hand hygiene or the incorrect use or reuse of medical equipment. HAIs pose unwanted health risks to patients that vary depending on the physical condition of the patient and the cleanliness of the healthcare facility.
Consider some of these alarming statistics on HAIs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- 4% of hospital patients have at least one HAI
- The most common forms of HAIs are pneumonia and surgical site infections
- Device-associated infections account for 1 in 4 HAIs
- 43% of infections develop during a stay in a critical care unit, or within 48 hours of leaving
- HAIs are almost equally likely between genders
- 8% of HAIs occur within patients aged 12 months or younger
Device-associated infections account for 1 in 4 hospital-acquired infections. Click To Tweet
Often under-recognized and under-supported as integral to the safe and effective administration of healthcare , the risk and burden of maintaining a safe environment for patients to avoid HAIs is traditionally associated with healthcare worker hand hygiene and the ability of a medical facility to maintain a sterile environment. However, a recent study lead by Dr. Lona Mody and her research team at The University of Michigan suggests that many patients carry superbugs on their hands when discharged from a hospital, raising a cautionary flag that patient hand hygiene could be just as–if not more–important than healthcare worker and facility cleanliness.
Superbugs are now deemed a “looming global threat” according to a new research report that suggests they may kill up to 10 million people per year by the year 2050 if left unchecked. Many in the healthcare industry are taking notice by tightening infection-control policies at medical facilities and keeping hand hygiene habits top of mind for both patients and clinicians.
New technology raises urgency for stricter infection control
SafePatientProject.org describes three conditions that must exist in order for superbugs to spread and infect a patient: the existence of the bacteria in the hospital, a susceptible patient, and a mode of transmission such as touch. When patients arrive at a medical facility, they are bound to voluntarily come in contact with items within their surroundings, such as: a magazine in the waiting room, a chair handle, a bathroom sink faucet, and a phone in the patient’s room. Although these are examples of items that patients touch voluntarily, they still fall under facility infection control jurisdiction.
But what about items patients are asked to touch by medical staff?
The explosion of digital healthcare has introduced many new physical devices to help support the efficient, effective, and safe delivery of value based care. Touch-screen check-in kiosks in the waiting room, contact-dependent biometric hardware devices for accurate identification, and e-sign tablets to consent for treatment are all examples of new technology that require physical contact by patients to increase patient safety, enhance the patient experience, and raise patient engagement levels. However, the only way a medical facility can drive incremental value over time through these new devices is if patients actually use them for their intended purpose.
Heightened patient awareness of the dangers to contract HAIs such as superbugs and MRSA increases the burden on medical facilities to ensure they are working closely with internal infection control experts to sanitize these new devices after each use.
I recently caught up with Dr. Mody and asked her about infection control protocols for any new devices patients are asked to use in a hospital setting.
“It is critical to keep up with infection control protocols when introducing any new device or technology a patient is asked to touch and use,” said Dr. Mody. “It makes common sense to ensure the cleanliness of any new devices that require patient contact.”
Does poor infection control impact patient engagement?
As mentioned earlier, the only way to drive incremental value over time for new, contact-dependent devices introduced within medical facilities is patient participation and engagement. Information technologies and devices play a large role in increasing that engagement and represent important interactive tools to help patients live healthier lives. Patient engagement is now an important mantra in the healthcare industry because of its downstream effect on patient safety, quality and outcomes, effective communications, and self-service transactions.
While some may debate the interpretation of patient engagement, its merits, and the avenues that lead to active participation, one thing is clear: patients are becoming more educated on the safety of the environment where care is delivered and are becoming less likely to use new devices unless they are properly cleaned and sanitized.
Cleanliness is an important determinant of safety and care quality. Since patient perception plays a key role in their willingness to engage with providers about their health or the health of a family member, it stands to reason that new devices which require physical contact introduced along the continuum of care that are not visibly being sanitized after patient use will deter participation and lower engagement.
Heightened awareness of infection control protocols must be commensurate with the push to introduce new technologies that require patient contact in a medical setting. As patient knowledge increases of the risk of hospital-acquired infections, they will most likely not be as open and willing to physically touch a device even if it has been properly sanitized. Healthcare facilities must ensure that they involve infection control experts in the planning and use of these new contact-dependent devices and develop a strategy PRIOR to introducing them. Failure to do so could result in dangerous consequences by spreading germs and illness such as MRSA which could irreparably harm a healthcare provider’s reputation and erode patient trust in the ability of hospital staff to offer a safe and clean environment to administer care.
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