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Hospital Infection Control: Surprising Facts About How Germs Get Around

New Study: Your office desk has 400 times the germs as an average toilet seat.  Imagine what hospital wheelchairs can carry…

A new Kimberly Clark study says the typical office desk has 400 times more germs than the average toilet seat. The study said employees pick up germs in their break rooms and spread them to their workspace. Sink faucets, microwave door handles and refrigerator handles were named the biggest culprits in the company’s Healthy Workplace Project study.

Now imagine what it must be like in a hospital, whose reason for being, in large part, is to provide a temporary home for germs until they can be eradicated by modern medicine.  If office desktops and keyboards pose a threat, then what about shared items in the hospital environment where the germs are vicious killers?  How about a wheelchair that just transferred a patient with C.diff or MRSA, or the room just vacated by that patient?

 

According to the study, conducted for the hygiene products maker by the University of Arizona, most cold and flu germs are spread in the break room because it is a shared eating space—and every visit to the break room is an opportunity to carry those germs back to workspaces and office desks.

Naturally, the report provides tips on avoiding the spread of germs in the workplace, most of which involve using Kimberly-Clark products to sanitize workers’ hands. Hospitals also place great emphasis on hand washing for infection control, but is this enough?

Part of the problem is that no one told the germs. Those pesky critters (which kill about 100,000 Americans each year) just hop a wheelchair, a gurney or some other medical equipment and off they go, to the next room, the next patient, or a family member.

Let’s face it. Everyone knew eradicating drug-resistant superbugs was going to be an uphill battle. But there are a number of infection control precautions which hospitals have overlooked, most notably involving their housekeepers and transporters, the people who travel most widely within the average hospital.

  • For instance, when an infected patient is moved to another room, the isolation sign very often goes with that patient. When EVS personnel enter the first room to clean it, they can be inadvertently exposed to some of the worst bugs known to mankind. Even if they don’t become infected, they can unknowingly become disease carriers throughout the hospital.
  • What about the transporter who takes an infected patient to radiology, but doesn’t do a written handoff?  This exposes the technician, the radiological equipment and the next transporter to infection. And the wheelchair gets parked in a corner without the type of cleaning needed for superbug exposure.

Since these workers don’t know they have been exposed, they can spread disease to other workers, patients and family members when they go home. And, since they are the most travelled employees in any hospital, it’s reasonable to assume that they may be a cause for superbug infection moving from the ICU to the general hospital population at an alarming rate.

Very few hospitals have addressed inadvertent exposure to date, even though some of the solutions are already embedded in existing patient flow software. TeleTracking, for example, can instantly alert everyone who needs to know when a room is blocked for infection, and the patient’s infection status is also narrowcast to employees who will be in contact with that patient.

In the office, you catch a cold if you are inadvertently exposed to germs on a microwave. In a hospital, the consequence is a heck of a lot worse.

What methods is your hospital using or considering to further reduce the infection control problem? Are you aware that today’s patient flow technology can help?

 

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