Visit any hospital, and you will likely see signs reminding care providers and patients alike to wash their hands after using the restroom, before mealtime, and following contact with any potentially contaminated surfaces. While hand washing remains the most critical step in combating the spread of infectious diseases, it just isn’t enough in healthcare facilities that are often the breeding grounds for dangerous and even deadly bacteria.
Technology has entered our hospitals to increase the ease of access and specialization of care. With the rise of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs), the healthcare industry is turning to tech companies for new methods of cleaning, disinfecting, and monitoring compliance of infection-prevention policies.
HAIs by the numbers
HAIs are infections patients get while receiving medical or surgical care. These conditions are preventable when infection prevention techniques are used by nurses, doctors, and other care providers. However, it’s estimated that about one in every 25 patients contracts an HAI. Every year HAIs cost between $35 billion and $45 billion for acute-care hospitals alone. While progress is being made to prevent some HAI’s, more work needs to be done, especially with germs that have gained resistance to powerful antibiotics.
More than 23,000 Americans die yearly from infections caused by germs that no longer respond to medications. The CDC released a new report in April 2018 regarding nationwide laboratory testing that uncovered more than 220 instances of germs with “unusual” antibiotic resistance. These germs cause hard-to-treat or even untreatable infections each day in the only place many people feel can heal them.
Modern medicine utilizes many invasive procedures to prolong and even improve the lives of patients across the country. We are able to transplant organs, repair devastating traumatic injuries, and replace joints that were once considered irreparable. However, these procedures bring the risk of infections.
Surgery isn’t the only department susceptible to hospital infections. Patients in any type of inpatient and outpatient unit can come into contact with deadly germs in their rooms, on surfaces, and on the hands of those who care for them. The most common types of HAIs include surgical site infections, Pneumonia, Clostridium difficile (an intestinal infection), bloodstream infections and catheter-associated urinary tract infections.
The importance of cleanliness
Keeping patient care areas clean is critical to patient safety and wellness. As more data becomes available about the risks of HAIs and the subsequent cost to the healthcare system, more administrators, physicians, and policymakers are turning to the technology industry for solutions. However, it’s essential to note that cleaning in a hospital or another facility-based setting isn’t a simple process. It requires a multi-modal approach to remove soil from surfaces and healthcare equipment, as well as organizing an environment that is optimal for patient safety.
Facility policies must focus on controlling contamination along with the health and wellness of patients and staff. Using harsh chemicals poses significant risks to environmental services personnel who touch and breathe in these chemicals. The process of cleaning a patient room or other direct-care area is time and labor-intensive too. All of these factors have caused the industry to search for new methods of cleaning and surveillance.
UV light disinfection
One way technology is combating the prevalence of HAIs is through the use of UV energy. This technology uses a subtype of ultraviolet light known as UV-C to eliminate pathogens from high-touch surfaces, such as overbed tables, doors, and beds. One advantage of this technology is that the process is the same from room to room compared to the variations of the manual, employee-driven cleaning and disinfecting process. Experts also believe that this technology’s ability to eliminate resistant pathogens is promising.
Hand hygiene monitoring systems
Another technological advancement is the use of devices that monitor and report hand hygiene events. These devices, such as the DebMed Group Monitoring System, aims to enhance healthcare worker hand washing compliance and reduce the spread of infections. Systems use an evidence-based algorithm to determine the number of hand hygiene opportunities an employee had while delivering care and then calculates a compliance rate. This technology provides statistical data that healthcare providers can use to improve their infection prevention practices.
The emergence of hand sanitizer changed how healthcare professionals performed hand hygiene over a decade ago. The maker of Purell hand sanitizer, GOJO Industries, has created a compliance monitoring system that tracks the number of times hand sanitizer dispensers are used. This data is then used to identify high and low compliance areas in the facility that can be used for staff monitoring and education.
You can probably imagine just how dirty the floors of a patient room, hospital lobby, or treatment area can get. Along with airborne germs, floors can become soiled with blood and body fluids during standard care. Conventional loop mops have long been the most acceptable method of cleaning hard-surface floors. However, these mops require workers to change the mop head and water often, or the risk of cross-contamination of germs from one room to the next is high.
Microfiber mops are made of nylon fibers that are densely constructed. These fibers are smaller than a single human hair but can hold up to six times their weight in water. The high absorbancy of these mops, along with their ability to attract dirt particles makes them ideal for facility-based cleaning. Not only has this technology proven to reduce infections, but it’s also increasing the productivity of environmental services staff and decreasing work-related injuries.
Technology is all around us. While the uptake of technological advancements has been slower in healthcare than in other industries, it’s now making considerable improvements to care. The use of technologies that make our hospitals and other facilities cleaner is helping to enhance the patient experience and improve patient safety.