The importance of infection control can’t be understated — according to the CDC, infections acquired in the hospital cause 99,000 deaths per year, while further infecting or endangering 1.7 million in total.

And considering we are nearly at the end of the 5-year HAI action plan put in place by the US Department of Health and Human Services in 2015, it is time to double-down on solid infection-control strategies. The 2020 targets for reductions on HAIs range from 30% fewer to 50% fewer infections, a staggering amount even at the lowest end of the scale. 

The only way to achieve infection control is through a multi-pronged approach. This approach combines staff training, accountability, asset tracking, antimicrobial computers and work surfaces, and frequent education on the newest dangers and strategies to combat them. 

But where do we start? How do we protect patients, clinicians, and visitors starting right now? 

Cleaning Up Work Surfaces Using Antimicrobial Nanotech

Person-to-person infections are usually what we worry about the most, which unfortunately often allows person-to-surface (and back again) to slip in under our collective radar. This is why we have to focus on all of the commonly-used work surfaces around the hospital or healthcare facility first.

Other than door handles, what do clinicians touch the most? Probably the computer on wheels, wall-mounted medical computer, or medical tablet they use hundreds of times a day. Whether accessing electronic medical records, looking up prescriptions, taking notes, or just communicating with other clinicians, the computers see a lot of traffic by multiple users a day. And when those users aren’t sending emails or ordering painkillers, they’re cleaning and treating patients with infectious conditions or high bacterial loads. 

That’s where dedicated medical computers with antimicrobial properties come in. There are two types of medical computers (as far as infection-control is concerned) — those with an antimicrobial coating applied to the existing plastic, and those with antimicrobial nanotech built into the resin of the case. Antimicrobial coating is generally cheaper, but it also wears away after repeated cleanings — which are generally in no short supply in a hospital. 

Medical computers, medical tablets, and medical panel PCs (for dedicated devices) with built-in antimicrobial resin are more durable — you’d have to scrub pretty hard with a sponge to actually sand the case down to nothing. And then you’ve got other problems

Finally, the last thing to look out for when considering medical PCs to lower HAIs is the cooling system. Traditional computers use fans to keep their components cool — unfortunately, those fans also draw in dust, dirt, grime, and other liquids that can and do carry pathogens. These pathogens grow in the warm, dark environment inside of a computer, creating a recipe for ongoing infection. 

Nurses and doctors touch these computers, go about their duties — the vector for HAI becomes clear. Instead consider fanless medical computers, which usually stay cool through a combination of low-power parts and radiative cooling through some metallic part of the case. With sealed cases, HAI’s become simultaneously easier to clean with disinfectant and far less likely to host bacteria than other computers or work surfaces.

Empower Clinicians and Staff to Take Charge of Infection Control

All of the top-down infection control policies in the world won’t be effective without investment from clinicians in the trenches. That’s why it’s wise to formulate a facility-wide strategy where at least one person per department is tasked with executing infection control policies.

Whether this responsibility is something volunteered or assigned, comes with a stipend or other perk is up to administration and hospital needs. However, this extra responsibility is absolutely crucial.

Data being gathered by surveillance, surveys, internet-of-things devices, and medical sensors can all be analyzed and sent to these designated people at regular intervals. This gives them both actionable intelligence to act on and the agency to help draft and enforce up-to-date infection control strategies. 

Even something as simple as empowering an employee in a leadership position to enforce hand hygiene policy can help prevent one-third of hospital-acquired infections.

Increase Sterilization Accountability with Smart Asset Tracking

Proper sterilization techniques for surgical instruments, surgical trays, and all other reusable medical supplies should already be in place at every hospital. However, how easy is it to miss a step or forget? Doctors, nurses, and techs are all just humans — if very smart humans —  which means small slip-ups are inevitable. And while a tiny slip-up at the drive-thru means you forgot someone’s fries, a mistake in the sterilization process can and will lead to infection, injury, and worse.

That’s where RFID asset tracking comes in useful for meeting the 2020 goals for HAI reduction. RFID and/or barcodes can be attached to any and all reusable medical equipment, right down to individual scalpels. 

The instruments can be scanned right before use or during transport to the exam or operating room where they will be used. After the procedure is finished, they can be scanned again by a handy medical tablet or handheld scanner to mark them as “soiled” in the system. Then, at a sterilization or cleaning station, each instrument can be swiped through another RFID or barcode scanner to complete the cycle.

If a nurse picks up a surgical tray before a procedure, scans it, and sees on their monitor that the tray missed a step in the process, they can immediately catch it and replace it. 

This kind of system even works for clinicians and patients! ID badges scanned at doors and entrances by staff can be put together to create a picture of potential infection — did a nurse visit an infectious patient or quarantine and then not visit a hand washing station? The nurse can be alerted immediately on her smartphone, which would allow her to correct the error before any true harm occurred. 

These real-time location tracking devices and policies have already been studied and used successfully, creating a marked improvement in reducing hospital-acquired infections

Further Methods of Infection Control

Of course, these are only a few methods. It’s also wise to stay abreast of the most recent outbreaks and the methods to combat them — empowering your “infection control ambassadors” from earlier in the article to stay up-to-date on these topics is definitely encouraged. 

Consider creating signs, pamphlets, or hand-outs for visitors to sign that educate them on how to best avoid HAI’s while visiting, or how to avoid passing anything on to patients. 

Infection control is a problem that only a combination of organization, clinician engagement, and technology can truly fight. To learn more methods of infection control, and how medical computers can lead the way, contact an expert at Cybernet today.