When the COVID-19 pandemic swept the country, many patients elected to have telehealth appointments or opted not to see their healthcare providers at all. With the return of in-person visits, it's more important than ever to limit patient exposure to infectious agents, thereby preventing infection transmission.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure and transmission of infectious pathogens occur through contact, droplets and airborne pathogens.1 Learning to control these three avenues of infection leads to improved patient safety and quality of care.
Here are seven ways to help limit exposure and prevent infection transmission this winter.
1 | Prioritize staff training
All healthcare workers should train in safety protocols and infection control to limit exposure. Even veteran staff should take refresher courses to make sure everyone understands and uses the policies and procedures for standard and transmission-based precautions: proper use of personal protection equipment (PPE), hand-washing techniques, infectious patient isolation, disinfecting and so on.
Make sure staff understand the scientific basis for each precaution. Repeat as necessary to ensure comprehension and retrain whenever there are new recommendations.
In one study, "the likelihood of healthcare workers developing SARS was strongly associated with less than two hours of infection control training and lack of understanding of infection control procedures," according to the CDC.2
2 | Get your staff to help prevent infection transmission
A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infections3 found that single interventions such as hand-washing campaigns or reminder posters on their own were ineffective in improving staff compliance.
Protocol adherence must integrate into the office culture with a multifaceted approach: Provide educational materials and feedback on performance, modify and improve equipment and change administrative policy and sanctions where necessary.
Most of all, you need to lead by example. Your staff will realize how seriously you have committed to these protocols by what you put into practice.3
Download these posters for to promote infection prevention protocols in your facility:
- 5 critical moments in infection prevention (for primary care facilities)
- 5 critical moments in infection prevention (for extended care facilities)
- New facility protocols (for primary care facilities)
- New facility protocols (for extended care facilities)
- How to hand wash
- Handwashing steps
3 | Disinfect & clean surfaces
Standard and transmission-based precautions urge disinfecting and cleaning in patient care areas, especially frequently-touched surfaces such as toilets, sinks, doorknobs, exam tables, waiting room areas and any other surfaces and equipment near the patient.
Clean areas touched by patients after each appointment.2
It's also necessary to appoint one staff member to act as safety coordinator to monitor protocols and best practices.4
4 | Use personal protective equipment (PPE) properly
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to provide appropriate PPE for all personnel who are at risk for infectious disease exposure. Maintain proper disposal systems for disposable items or cleaning services for reusable PPE.
In healthcare settings, PPE includes:5
- Face shields
When choosing PPE for your healthcare setting, consider:5
- The type of exposure your staff will encounter: Will there be splashes or sprays, or fluids that might penetrate the clothing? Which area of the body requires protection?
- The effectiveness of the PPE: Is the gown fluid-proof? Does any staff member have a latex allergy that would necessitate non-latex gloves?
- Fit: Does the equipment fit properly (not too snug and not too loose)? Do you need to order different sizes? Does it protect what needs protecting?
5 | Create a process for reporting staff exposures
The CDC recommends developing, reviewing and updating policies about staff exposure and illness management services.
Establish a private and non-punitive procedure by which your staff can report possible exposures and provide them with exposure and illness management services and immediate lab services.
Allow sick leave that prevents "presenteeism," or staff showing up because they can't afford to take the time off. Create clear criteria for when exposed or infected staff may return to work.6
6 | Practice respiratory hygiene
Infections spread quickly via coughing, talking or sneezing. Droplets sprayed into the air are either inhaled by others or land on surfaces that others then touch. Take precautions with staff:7
- Staff must wear masks and gloves during examinations
- Wash hands before and after every patient examination
- Change gloves before every new examination
- Cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing and wash hands immediately afterward
Also, encourage proper respiratory etiquette among patients:7
- Post signs asking patients to alert staff if they have symptoms of a respiratory infection
- Do not allow any patient in without a mask. Have extra masks available
- Make sure tissues and no-touch wastebaskets (that open via foot pedals) are easily accessible
- Post signs that urge patients to cover their noses and mouths when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands immediately afterward
7 | Isolate infectious patients
If patients are or may have become infectious, isolate them immediately in an examination room, if possible.
If this is not possible, group patients that are infected with the same pathogen in one room and instruct them to follow respiratory hygiene and etiquette. Disinfect the room frequently.8
The CDC also recommends curbside or drive-through vaccination clinics where possible to reduce patient and staff exposures.9
Prevent infection transmission this season
Taking these precautions seriously will ensure that you have done all you can to protect your staff and your patients from exposure to or from transmitting infectious pathogens as much as possible, improving patient safety and quality of care.
Be advised that information contained herein is intended to serve as a useful reference for informational purposes only and is not complete clinical information. This information is intended for use only by competent healthcare professionals exercising judgment in providing care. McKesson cannot be held responsible for the continued currency of or for any errors or omissions in the information.
© 2021 McKesson Medical-Surgical Inc.