Why Patients and Healthcare Workers Face Infection Risks in Medical Facilities

September 24th, 2018 by Wapner Newman

Why Patients and Healthcare Workers Face Infection Risks in Medical Facilities

It turns out that the transfer of some healthcare-associated infections (HAI) may stem not from the atmosphere or surfaces of a hospital, long-term acute care facility, or inpatient rehab center, but from the actions of staff members. In other words, germs are hitching a ride on the very people who are trying to prevent them from moving from place to place.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one out of every 25 patients being treated in a medical environment is likely to get an HAI. Yet people aren’t getting sicker because they’re in contact with each other; more than likely, their infections are caused by improper worker protocol and hygiene procedures.

A fascinating July 2018 article from Safety & Health raised the curtain on what’s happening regarding this topic. Namely, many hospital and clinic employees are violating safety processes and putting themselves, other workers, volunteers, and patients at risk of infections, viruses, and additional problems.

As the piece clearly notes, these violations typically happen due to distraction or personal habits. For instance, researchers observed many gloved staffers reaching into cabinets to get medicine, tapping their smartphones or other electronic screens, and also touching their faces. Although they were wearing the expected equipment (e.g., originally sanitized gloves), they unintentionally contaminated the equipment and made it less–or not at all–effective.

How widespread were these breaks in acceptable personal protective equipment (PPE) rules? The study counted a full 283 incidents during 325 observations. Some behaviors took place in patient rooms, while others occurred elsewhere but in facilities and areas that demanded PPE.

Again, it’s clear that medical personnel were not egregiously skipping routines. Still, all it takes is one major outbreak to cause panic.

For instance, as recently as the spring of 2018, Pennsylvania was hit with an epidemic of measles outbreaks. Although the measles is generally not a fatal condition, it can be risky for people who fall into the category of vulnerable populations, such as individuals who are elderly or have compromised immune systems. As the CDC notes, the measles can also lead to further complications, including pneumonia, hearing loss, and encephalitis. As such, it’s easy to see how a contagious disease like the measles could run rampant through a hospital ward or senior nursing home if PPE protocols weren’t followed to the letter.

Certainly, not all HAIs are as profoundly worrisome or unusual as the measles. But even an outbreak of the common cold can be enough to cause heightened worker absenteeism, sicker patients, ill volunteers, uncomfortable visitors, and a more stressful situation for everyone.

What’s the answer to the rising dilemma of potential contamination and corresponding infections due to poor PPE practices? As the aforementioned Safety & Health suggests, medical facility managers may need to re-train their people. Plus, as more hands-free equipment becomes available, centers might be wise to invest in products and solutions that make staying germ-free easier.

The next time you’re in a healthcare facility, do your best to protect yourself and others by washing your hands frequently and not touching too many surfaces. You’ll have a better experience and be less likely to bring home unwanted germs.

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