Controlling infection when using mobile devices in healthcare settings
COVID-19 has created a renewed awareness of the importance of cross-contamination and infection control in healthcare facilities.
Devices including smartphones and other mobile healthcare devices can become potential breeding grounds for the virus as well as other infections. This risk becomes far worse if the devices are shared among multiple people without being effectively cleaned at regular intervals.
When doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are incredibly busy looking after patients, stringent disinfection protocols may be overlooked. A recent study found that almost one-third (32%) of survey respondents did not regularly clean or decontaminate the mobile devices they used in a healthcare setting.1 This can be of significant concern because SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to live on surfaces for up to several days.2
The combination of rarely cleaned devices and a days-long infection window means that healthcare facilities need to take special care when it comes to managing devices. Contaminated devices are dangerous for staff members and patients, especially those who are already vulnerable because they’re undergoing surgery, in the intensive care unit or elderly. Even a mild infection can quickly render healthcare staff unable to work and can prolong illnesses for existing patients. A more serious infection can result in adverse outcomes even in otherwise healthy individuals.
Mobile devices can be overlooked for cleaning in a clinical setting, but their high rate of use means they’re ideal vectors for carrying the virus. Users are constantly touching their smartphones, holding them up to their faces and speaking into them — users almost certainly don’t wash their hands each time before using their mobile device.
It’s therefore clear that addressing the risk of device-related contamination should be high on the agenda for all healthcare organisations.
It’s important to note that there is a difference between clean and disinfected devices. A device may look clean — it may even have been thoroughly wiped down — but, if the cleaning process doesn’t include disinfectant, the device is likely still carrying the virus. Unfortunately, consumer-grade smartphones and some other electrical devices are too delicate to be cleaned with the harsh chemicals required to kill the virus. This means they may be contaminated with the virus even after superficial cleaning.
Using purpose-built devices that are designed for use in clinical environments is essential so that they can be cleaned properly. During this time of increased risk, healthcare facilities should consider banning or reducing the use of personal mobile devices in favour of purpose-built devices that can withstand disinfectant using chemicals such as bleach, hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol, or even UV cleaning equipment.
These chemicals will remove the virus from devices, ensuring they’re disinfected and not just superficially cleaned. Using them on a consumer-grade smartphone, however, could damage the device or even destroy it altogether.
To keep devices safer for use, it’s important to implement a set of policies or procedures regarding disinfection. The five moments of hand hygiene map out the essential points at which healthcare practitioners need to wash their hands. Similarly, healthcare organisations should set out the five moments of device hygiene. This means disinfecting the device at the following key moments:
- Before using it for the first time.
- Before handing it to a new user.
- After using it, especially in an area where infectious people are known to be.
- After it’s exposed to any bodily fluids or other risk.
- Before recharging it.
When cleaning purpose-built devices, it’s important to avoid disassembling them or deliberately overexposing them to liquids, steam or other corrosive elements. The device should be switched off and disconnected from the charger, and the battery removed, before cleaning. The cleaning solution should be placed onto a cloth rather than sprayed or poured directly onto the device. Disinfectant wipes can also be used in most cases, as can standard medical-grade cleaning wipes using quaternary-compound cleaning agents.
It’s important to use common sense when cleaning devices and avoid being unnecessarily rough with them. The battery should only be reinserted when the device is completely dry.
With purpose-built devices that are designed to withstand the harsh clinical environment, healthcare organisations can implement disinfecting protocols that lower the risk of infection.
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