How Mobile Device Policies Must Focus on Controlling Contamination

Rhonda Collins

Guest post by Rhonda Collins, MSN, RN, chief nursing officer of Vocera.

Studies show that cell phones can carry more bacteria than a toilet seat. This is a disturbing topic for anyone, but should be duly noted by those of us in healthcare. With hospital cell phone policies changing, it’s crucial that we focus on infection control as a priority for any mobile communication device in the hospital. A Spyglass Consulting Group survey revealed that regardless of a hospital’s device policy, staff nurses are using personal smartphones to support clinical communications and workflow. In addition, a whopping 51 percent of hospitals plan to invest in or evaluate their smartphone solutions over the next 18 months.

This movement toward a more mobile healthcare workforce is an exciting change that will allow clinicians to become more connected to both patients and colleagues. While this change will make a sizeable impact on the way that hospitals operate, devices that are surrounded by the sickest patients are of greater concern as they can transfer bacteria both to and from the patient. This poses potential harm to everyone in the environment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that one out of every 25 hospital patients contracts a healthcare-associated infection (HAI). This means that about 722,000 patients face hospital acquired infections annually. The most common HAI that hospitals are seeing today include pneumonia (22 percent), surgical site infections (22 percent), gastrointestinal infections (17 percent), urinary tract infections (13 percent) and bloodstream infections (10 percent), all urgent and uncomfortable situations that pose a major threat to patient safety.

Healthcare providers must consider these numbers when developing their mobile device policies and should consider the following to keep devices clean:

Utilize antimicrobial technology to avoid device, clinician and patient contamination. New antimicrobial technology can now reduce microbes by up to 99.99 percent and should be used with any device regularly accessed by a clinician. This is a plastic coating that can be placed around a mobile device and should not hinder voice activations or any handset functions on the device. Any surface untreated by antimicrobial technology can allow microbes to multiply, which can be a threat to patient safety. By proactively protecting patients against germs with this tool, patients, families and clinicians alike can feel better knowing that a layer of safety has been put into place for this important tools.

Go hands-free. Devices should have the capability to be worn hands-free. This may mean that the clinician wears the device on a lanyard around their neck or clipped onto his or her scrubs. The right mobile communication device will have acoustic performance that allows clinicians to conduct clear, hands-free conversations with teammates. The most common mode of transmission of pathogens is with hands. As such, hand-to-device contact should be reduced as much as possible in a health care setting. Since these devices can be looked at as a lifeline of sorts, it’s important that clinicians are able to use them functionally and appropriately while treating patients. With the right, light weight device, hands-free capabilities can make the nurse feel as if they aren’t even wearing it.

Educate and train employees on infection control strategies. With devices optimized for sanitization, it’s still critical that hospital staff is on board to prevent contamination. Even after years of education focus and compliance strategies, it can be a struggle to get staff to adhere to strict hand washing regimens. In fact, observational studies published by CDC have found that health care workers follow recommended hand hygiene procedures an average of only 40 percent of the time. Each and every member of the hospital staff should understand infection control strategies for their personal devices so that patients can rest assured that the facility is being kept as clean as possible. Each member of the team should also understand the implications that poor hand hygiene choices can have on patient safety and health.

There is good news in that CDC’s March 2014 National and State Healthcare-associated Infection Progress Report uses data from over 12,500 U.S. hospitals showing progress in HAI control. In the past four years, the United States has seen a 44 percent reduction in central line-associated bloodstream infections and a 20 percent decrease in infections related to ten surgical procedures. This progress is very exciting and shows us that hospitals are paying more attention to sanitization.

With more mobile devices entering hospitals every year, hospitals and health systems must educate employees on HAI and do everything possible to reduce device contamination.

In healthcare we are often dealing with the sickest patients who cannot risk a secondary infection. Although mobile devices make work easier and more streamlined for clinicians, hospitals must balance that with a focus on infection control.

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