PREVENTING INFECTION: EVOLVING THREATS REQUIRE EVOLVING METHODS
Hospital infections continue to decrease as medical institutions use improved data tracking, better training for staff, and technology to ferret out and eliminate their causes. Although progress is being made, too many patients still acquire infections in hospital settings. Continuing to adapt to the ever-changing nature of infection by providing top notch training, including up-to-date education videos for nurses and other medical staff, will help to further reduce infections and improve patient outcomes.
INFECTIONS AFFECT 1 IN 25 PATIENTS
Hospital acquired infections (HAIs) affect about one in 25 patients, according to the CDC. A Wall Street Journal article estimates that HAIs kill about 100,000 people each year and cost about $6.5 billion. Many, if not all, of these infections are preventable, and health care facilities around the country have made reducing infections that occur in hospitals a major priority.
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National and State Healthcare Associated Infections Progress Report, health care facilities achieved significant reductions in hospital acquired infections between 2008 and 2013. Unfortunately, reductions did not meet CDC goals for decreases in infections.
The CDC found that hospitals reduced central line-associated bloodstream infections by 46 percent, surgical site infections in 10 select procedures by 19 percent, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections by 8 percent, in the time period tracked by the report.
Unfortunately, catheter-associated urinary tract infections increased by 6 percent. Catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) are among the most common types of hospital-acquired infections and often prove to be the most difficult to resolve. Early data from 2014 looks more hopeful, as that information suggests that CAUTIs are beginning to decline. Increased emphasis on reducing CAUTIs, including more training for health care using medical exam videos and other tools appears to be getting results.
STEPS TO REDUCE INFECTION
To reduce hospital acquired infections, health care facilities must take a proactive approach to eliminating opportunities for infections to occur. The following are a few methods focusing both on back-to-basics infection prevention and technological tools that hospitals and their staffs can cut the number of HAIs.
- Shine a Black Light – Vectors of infection can be tough and hardy, surviving for weeks in patient rooms and on equipment before finding a patient to infect. MRSA bacteria is a particularly persistent vector.
Inspections using fluorescent marker spray and black lights can help determine whether cleaning crews are sufficiently cleansing rooms and equipment. Combined with training programs to improve compliance with cleaning protocols, hospitals can see improved results.
- Robotics – New robotic equipment is providing superior results in cleaning emergency-room equipment. Unlike human cleaners, robots don’t get bored or distracted, allowing them to achieve superior results in tedious, repetitive tasks like those involving cleaning.
- Data Tracking – Data has done a lot for helping physicians achieve superior results, as quick access to large amounts of data can better help them spot correlations and commonalities among patients and treatments. Data can also help in tracking infection rates, and letting nurses and other hospital staff more quickly identify problem areas.
For example, data tracking may detect an increase in MRSA infections in one area of the hospital, resulting in a more prompt investigation and resolution of the problem. Data tracking can also be a motivational tool. Floors or departments that see themselves lagging behind in stats will redouble their efforts to achieve success.
- Increased Attention to Hand Hygiene – Hand-washing is the first line of defense against infections. Hospital staff should be routinely trained and re-trained on correct hand-washing procedures. Seminars, workshops, and education videos for nurses and other medical staff are all good methods for reinforcing this important message.
- Anti-Bacterial Baths – Research has shown that for patients facing surgery, showers with chlorhexidine prior to the operation can help reduce infection. Other research has found that daily washing with chlorhexidine can help reduce bloodstream infections.
- Compliance with Reporting Laws – Many states have laws that require hospitals report their infection rate information to public health authorities. An increasing number of these states are requiring that the information be made publicly available. Compliance with the law creates a powerful motivation to reduce infection.
- Cultural Change – Hospitals need to emphasize a culture of infection prevention. Stopping infections isn’t just the job of the infection control nurse, it’s everyone’s responsibility, from hospital administrators, to doctors, to nurses, to cleaning crews. Education videos for nurses and other training tools can help get the point across.
- Checklists – A good old fashioned checklist can go a long way toward ensuring all necessary tasks are performed. Humans are fallible, and it is easy for them to miss steps when performing repetitive tasks associated with cleaning and sterilization. A checklist gives staff a visible reminder to ensure all tasks are performed accurately and safely.
- Complete Kits – A growing number of hospitals are creating portable kits filled with everything medical staff need for common procedures. These kits help keep nurses from having to return to supply closets for necessary gear and forgetting important steps as a result of the hassle.
- Mouth Care – Ventilator-associated infections are common in intensive care units, but can be prevented by regular cleaning of patients’ mouths. Regular cleaning of the mouth, gums, and teeth will knock down potentially harmful bacteria.
- Quick Testing – Hospitals should invest in tools that help them quickly identify infections. In fact, some health care experts are pushing for testing of all incoming patients for infections that could easily spread through a hospital environment, such as MRSA.
Ensuring that hospital staff are properly trained and are using all available methods to fight infection will not only improve patient outcomes, it will also help hospitals and medical professionals. Poor patient outcomes related to infections can harm hospital profits and also cause significant erosion of public trust placed in medical institutions. Reducing infections improves the financial health of hospitals, and allows them to better compensate their employees and maintain adequate staffing levels.
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