During the beginning of the COVID pandemic, when hospitals were overwhelmed and personal protective equipment was in short supply, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) significantly increased after declining for years. Now, as more people succumb to “pandemic fatigue,” many have seemingly become less cautious about getting sick and are abandoning preventative behaviors, such as wearing masks and social distancing. Hospitals are beginning to fill up again as the flu, COVID, RSV, and other infectious diseases spread. Now is a good time for hospitals and private practices to review infection prevention strategies and be prepared for whatever the future may bring. Here are five strategies to get you started:
Clean Your Hands Often
Hand hygiene is one of the most important tools we have in preventing the spread of HAIs. When we touch our faces, surfaces, or patients, we are likely touching a place where infectious agents are lurking, and enabling the spreading of these germs as we touch more patients and surfaces. Washing hands with soap and water or cleaning them with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can help fight these infectious agents and prevent them spreading throughout your healthcare facility and to your patients.
Use Personal Protective Equipment Appropriately
Personal protective equipment (PPE) also helps prevent the spread of pathogens, especially when combined with appropriate personal hygiene. Knowing when to garnish gloves, masks, and gowns and how to use and dispose of them properly is essential for protecting both patients and healthcare providers from HAIs. Look towards organizations such as the World Health Organization or the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology for guidance.
Stay Current on Vaccinations
Staying up to date on your vaccinations is also a vital tool in limiting the spread of HAIs. Vaccines are safe, may slow the spread of certain diseases, and can protect against serious complications from preventable diseases. In this age of medical misinformation, it is important for healthcare staff to reassure patients that vaccinations are safe and effective, and help them create a plan to stay current with their immunizations. Vaccines may also help address antimicrobial resistance by reducing the number of cases of vaccine-preventable diseases and promoting herd immunity, which might reduce the need for antimicrobial uses, such as antibiotics and antivirals. If you or your patients suffer from a needle phobia, or find vaccinations to be uncomfortable to get, there are ways to ease anxiety and pain, such as breathing exercises or using a cold spray prior to receiving the shot.
Keep a Clean Environment
Keeping a clean healthcare environment is another critical tool in addressing HAIs. Surfaces can act as reservoirs for pathogens, and as patients and medical professionals touch these surfaces and move throughout the healthcare facility, the pathogens can spread. Healthcare staff should be trained on when to clean and disinfect surfaces in patient care areas, what products to use, and how to provide feedback to administration to address what is working and what is not.
Educate Your Patients
Patients need to be empowered to know what is going on with their treatment and how to advocate for themselves. When in the hospital or other healthcare facility, patients should be aware of HAIs they are at risk for and the symptoms so they can alert healthcare staff to any issues as they arise. Also, patients ought to feel comfortable speaking up if they do not see their provider wash their hands, if their room needs to be cleaned, or if they have questions about how to use their antibiotics correctly.
With these five strategies, your healthcare staff can be prepared to better protect their patients and themselves from HAIs. Afterall, we want our patients to leave our facilities healthier than when they came to us, and our healthcare staff to be safe at work.
Want to learn more? Check out our eBook “The Healthcare-Associated Infections Playbook: Understanding, Addressing, and Controlling HAIs in Hospitals, and Private Practices” here.