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How to Prevent HAIs: 3 Tips to Keep Your Patients Healthy

How to Prevent HAIs: 3 Tips to Keep Your Patients Healthy

A 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that healthcare-associated infections, or HAIs, affect approximately 633,000 patients annually. That’s 1 of every 31 hospitalized patients in the United States. 

Tens of thousands of those patients will die of complications related to their healthcare-associated infection. 

HAIs put a massive burden on the healthcare system, costing healthcare facilities billions of dollars, leading to extended hospital stays, and, in severe cases, raising a facility’s mortality rate. 

To alleviate that burden, healthcare providers must learn about HAIs and how to prevent them to maintain a safe environment for patients and coworkers. 

Today, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive understanding of a healthcare-associated infection, how it spreads, and three essential preventive measures.

Healthcare-associated infections are a group of disease-causing microorganisms that invade patients while they receive medical care for another condition. 

These infections aren’t present at the time of admission. Rather, they develop during a stay at a healthcare facility. 

HAIs encompass many infections, including surgical site infections, central line-associated bloodstream infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other pathogens can cause them.

Patients and providers are at high risk of developing a healthcare-associated infection. 

HAIs can affect anybody in any healthcare setting, including hospitals, urgent care, nursing homes, surgical centers, and rehab facilities. 

There is a particularly high risk of HAIs spreading in settings where patients are close to each other, invasive procedures are conducted, and medical devices are frequently used.

HAIs are spread through various means of transmission, including:

  • Contact Transmission
  • Airborne Transmission
  • Droplet Transmission

There are two forms of contact transmission: direct contact and indirect contact.

Direct Contact Transmission

Direct contact transmission occurs when an individual comes into physical contact with an infected person. Examples include touching an infected wound or skin-to-skin contact.

Indirect Contact Transmission

Indirect contact transmission happens when individuals come into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects that harbor infectious agents. Common examples include doorknobs, bed rails, or medical equipment.

Airborne transmission occurs when particulate matter-carrying infectious agents are suspended in the air for extended periods. This form of transmission is particularly concerning in settings where airborne precautions are not adequately implemented.

A droplet transmission takes place when an infected person generates respiratory droplets by talking, coughing, or sneezing. When generated, these droplets travel a short distance and infect individuals in close proximity.

There are three recommended methods of preventing HAIs:

  1. Promote Proper Hand Hygiene
  2. Properly Clean and Disinfect Portable Medical Equipment After Each Use
  3. Assemble a Facility-Wide Infection Prevention Team

The most effective way to prevent the spread of HAIs is to practice and promote proper hand hygiene for patients and providers. 

Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to curb the spread of infection and disease at large, and HAIs are no different. 

When it comes to proper handwashing, you want to make sure patients and providers are following the World Health Organization (WHO) “5 Moments for Hand Hygiene.” The WHO identifies five key moments as absolutely vital for handwashing or hand sanitizing. These moments are:

  1. Before touching a patient
  2. Before a procedure
  3. After a procedure or exposure to body fluids
  4. After touching a patient
  5. After touching the patient’s surroundings 

As for handwashing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have their own recommended technique. It involves a five-step process.

  1. Wet your hands
  2. Lather in soap
  3. Scrub together for at least 20 seconds
  4. Rinse off 
  5. Dry with a clean paper towel

Promoting the WHO’s “5 Moments for Hand Hygiene” and the CDC’s recommended technique for handwashing is the most effective way to curb the spread of HAIs.

Here are some examples of effective ways to promote good hand hygiene:

  • Include proper hand hygiene protocols in education and training materials
  • Put up signage that displays the CDC’s hand washing routine 
  • Bring up hand hygiene in all of your meetings
  • Diligently monitor and refill hand soap dispensers 
  • Set up hand sanitizer displays in high traffic areas

Portable medical equipment can be thought of as a roaming high touch point. A high touch point is a surface that frequently comes into contact with people throughout the day. 

Pro Tip: You can learn all about high touch points in this video:

High touch points easily facilitate the spread of pathogens because they are handled by many different people in a short span of time, who then go on to touch patients and other surfaces. For this reason, it’s important to diligently clean and disinfect portable medical equipment. 

Each medical equipment manufacturer provides a set of guidelines on cleaning and disinfection specific to their equipment. These are called instructions for use (IFU). IFUs consist of: 

  • The necessary steps for cleaning and disinfection
  • The level of disinfection required (e.g., sterilization, high level disinfection, low or intermediate level disinfection)
  • The recommended frequency of disinfection
  • Cleaners and disinfectants that are compatible with the equipment or device

Following the IFU isn’t just about cleanliness; it’s about protecting the warranty and serviceability of the equipment. By following the recommended supplies and protocols within the IFU, you ensure that the equipment stays in top-notch shape and minimize the risk of cross-infections. 

If your medical equipment or device didn’t come with a physical copy of the IFUs, you can reach out to the manufacturer. They may be able to send you a copy or they may direct you to look on their website for a virtual copy. 

A good way of encouraging staff to frequently clean and disinfect medical equipment and devices is to put up signage in storage areas and around rooms. 

An infection prevention team is a unit of various healthcare professionals, such as nurses, environmental specialists, and infection prevention specialists, all driven by a shared objective: combating the spread of HAIs.

The goal of an infection prevention team is to formulate effective responses to the spread of HAIs. 

Their responsibilities include meticulous data collection, tracking infection patterns within the healthcare facility, and analyzing the available information. By recognizing trends, the team strives to establish preemptive measures against potential healthcare associated infection outbreaks.

Beyond proactive efforts, the team also develops comprehensive protocols and guidelines to combat active outbreaks.

Final Thoughts

HAIs remain a prevalent threat in the healthcare industry, but that doesn’t mean they must be in your facility.

By using prevention methods, such as promoting proper hand hygiene, properly cleaning and disinfecting portable medical equipment after each use, and assembling a facility-wide infection prevention team, you can help reduce the spread of HAIs. 

Stopping the spread of HAIs can prevent illness and even death, lower operating costs, and provide a more satisfying patient experience. 

If you need help, let Imperial Dade help you close the gaps in your infection prevention plan. Call today to schedule a consultation with one of our cleaning and disinfection specialists. 

One of our experts will come to your facility and perform a free on-site assessment. They’ll work with you to identify gaps in your infection prevention program and suggest the best course of action to prevent the spread of HAIs.

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