A hand in infection control

By Alan Stocker*
Tuesday, 22 October, 2019

A hand in infection control

Automated systems can help minimise cross-contamination in hospitals and aged-care facilities.

One of the biggest problems facing hospitals and aged-care facilities is cross-contamination that results in healthcare-associated infections. These infections can become very serious, with so-called superbugs becoming more difficult to treat due to their resistance to antibiotics. These multi-resistant organisms have the potential to prolong an otherwise uneventful stay in hospital and can even risk the patient’s life.

One of the best ways to keep these superbugs and other cross-contamination under control is also one of the simplest: health practitioners must comply with rigorous and continuous hand hygiene best practices. In other words, regularly and thoroughly washing one’s hands after working with patients can help keep hospitals and aged-care facilities healthier.

However, busy and overwhelmed healthcare practitioners may not always adhere to best practices as thoroughly as they should. It can be easy to forget to practise proper hand hygiene, especially when providing urgent care or when looking after a high number of patients at once.

Monitoring behaviour can help ensure that health practitioners comply with hand hygiene requirements. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the gold standard for evaluating compliance on hand hygiene practices is being directly and unobtrusively observed by a trained observer.1

However, in practice this can be unrealistic for many health providers who don’t have the resources to devote to such monitoring. Furthermore, even though compliance rates have been shown to increase for the duration of human observation, they tend to drop when that observation ends. In a facility with hundreds or even thousands of hand hygiene stations, human observation can only provide statistical sampling at best, meaning a better solution is needed.

The cost- and time-effective alternative for most facilities is an automatic hand hygiene monitor, which can report on metrics such as how often practitioners visit a hand hygiene station and can encourage compliance in real time. Proactive reminders are more effective than static ones such as posters or signs, and can turn positive hand hygiene behaviours into ongoing good habits.

Automatic monitoring can also help hospitals and aged-care facilities identify their biggest cross-contamination risks so that they can act appropriately to reduce those risks.

Hand hygiene isn’t the only factor in infection control. Managing and tracing assets effectively can also play a significant role in preventing the spread of infections. Being able to accurately trace where equipment is in the facility and which patients it has come into contact with can help if an infection is discovered. Healthcare staff can monitor the other patients who have been in contact with the contaminated equipment and even provide prophylactic antibiotics if appropriate.

Automatically tracking assets using tags eliminates the potential for human error and ensures that no patient or piece of equipment is overlooked in the fight against infections and cross-contamination.

Similarly, tracking patients or residents and their movements throughout the facility can also help identify whether they’ve been at risk of cross-contamination. By understanding the path of the infection, facilities can potentially contain it without having to shut down the facility and without causing unnecessary panic or concern among those who are not at risk.

Furthermore, an automated tracking system can dramatically reduce the response time to a cross-contamination incident. This means the staff can begin to contain the infection sooner, which will result in fewer people being affected.

Facilities can also consider environmental monitoring to maintain conditions that aren’t conducive to bacteria and infections. Keeping airflow contained and at optimum temperatures can reduce the risk of airborne infections taking hold.

Keeping surgical instruments sterile is also essential and can be made easier with automated tracking systems that alert staff members if a step in the sterilisation process has been missed. These automated solutions eliminate the risk of human error and help keep cross-contamination and healthcare-associated infections at bay.

*Alan Stocker is Health Practice Lead at Wavelink.

  1. https://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/monitoring_feedback/en/

Top image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Vladimir Voronin

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