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Making Infection Prevention Everyone's Responsibility

Sep 23, 2019 10:00:00 AM    posted in Infection Prevention

Breaking down institutional silos is a big topic of conversation in healthcare today, as caregivers, administrators and others recognize that when everyone works together outcomes improve. It is maybe a little ironic, then, that an area of healthcare often thought of as it is own "thing," infection prevention, is one where cooperation is most critical. Anyone can carry infection, so each individual in a hospital has a place in preventing infection’s spread. 

Understanding infection prevention in terms of shared accountability has begun to emerge as a necessary strategy to stem the spread of hospital-acquired infections. Here, we explore what the shared responsibility model for infection control and prevention looks like, and look at how this new way of thinking is getting everyone involved in stopping infections in their tracks. 

 

Who Cleans What: Educating and Operationalizing Responsibility  

Effective equipment sterilization seems like it would be a given in a hospital environment, but as Caroline Haggerty, manager of quality and safety at Penn Medicine, describes in an interview in Infection Control Today, this seemingly simple element can easily fall through the cracks, despite the staff's best intentions.

Ms. Haggerty was involved with creating a shared responsibility program at her 700-bed hospital and discovered many cases in which caregivers had simply lost track of where responsibilities lay. For example, the seats of the in-room commodes fell under the purview of neither the patient care staff nor the janitorial staff, and computer keyboards in nursing stations, which can be significant sources of germs, were not washable. Establishing responsibility and coordinating with different departments (even IT, in the case of getting washable keyboards) helped to close these gaps and significantly reduced infection risk.

 

Central to the successful shared responsibility program like the one Ms. Haggerty and her team put together are:  

  • • Developing a Strategy: Identifying who is responsible for specific sanitization tasks is critical to shared responsibility. This prevents gaps in performance and allows for full visibility and accountability if someone fails to handle a particular task

  • • Staff Training and Education: Equipment and environmental decontamination must be carried out correctly with utmost thoroughness. This demands that people given these tasks are well trained and up to date on best practices for doing the job.

Properly mobilizing caregivers and employees is one thing, but there is another element of shared responsibility that’s equally important – and raises its own set of issues.

 

Getting Patient’s Visitors On Board 

The comfort of hospital visitors is a top priority, and there is only so much that you can ask of them before they start feeling like they’re being put to work. Yet their adherence to infection prevention protocol is just as important as the adherence of hospital employees. 

The balance can be difficult to strike, but a 2019 study published in Health Expectations finds that staff have been successful with promoting cooperation instead of confrontation to encourage infection prevention adherence. 

 

Hospitals can accomplish this by: 

  • • Making adherence simple by providing easy-to-access handwashing stations and hand sanitizers 

  • • Creating a culture of compliance where everyone is visibly adhering to infection prevention best practices 

  • • Having signage that politely and clearly frames compliance as important and beneficial to all 

 

Community Involvement: Bringing Everyone Together
Under a shared responsibility model, the infection control specialist is critical to spearheading, building, coordinating and implementing a strategy that even the community at large takes part in. As this paradigm matures, the latest, most accurate information on how infections spread will be key to getting and keeping everyone who walks through the door of the hospital one step ahead of those dangerous pathogens.

 

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