“Technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable.”― Joseph Wood Krutch, American author
Infection preventionists have a vitally important job: they’re charged with preventing the spread of infection in facilities that assess and treat people with all kinds of infections. It’s a big job that can be overwhelming, particularly in an era defined by healthcare worker shortages and novel infectious agents.
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) has called for investment in the infection prevention and control infrastructure of the United States, stating that “We must bolster our infection prevention and control staff capacity in our system of healthcare to simultaneously manage HAIs and future pandemics.”
The right technology can bolster the capacity of your existing staff. Here are four ways technology can make the job of an infection preventionist (IP) easier:
Traditional contact tracing is labor-intensive. Technology can help IPs quickly identify staff and patients who may have been exposed to an infectious agent, and then efficiently share that information.
A 2017 article published in the Journal of Infection Control details how a hospital used a real time location system (RTLS) to more effectively create a list of people who may have been exposed to pertussis in the emergency department. The researchers note that exposure tracing using the facility’s electronic medical record (EMR) missed half of potential exposures, compared to RTLS data. Use of the RTLS system doubled the effectiveness of the IPs’ efforts to track pertussis exposure.
A 2020 study from Singapore also found RTLS-based contract tracing superior to EMR review for rapid contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clean Hands-Safe Hands’ automatically generated Performance Bubble Plots show infection preventionists which healthcare workers spent considerable time in particular patient rooms, at a glance. This information allows IPs to efficiently conduct focused contact and exposure tracing.
The Leapfrog Hand Hygiene Standard, which contributes to a hospital’s Leapfrog Safety Grade, requires facilities to collect hand hygiene compliance data on at least 200 hand hygiene opportunities (or 1.7% of all possible hand hygiene opportunities) each month in each patient care unit – including units many hospitals haven’t traditionally tracked, such as pediatrics, the emergency department, and post-anesthesia care units.
It takes a lot of time and effort to collect and collate that data via direct observation. Electronic hand hygiene systems like the Clean Hands-Safe Hands system automatically compile this data.
Technology can automatically sanitize surfaces and decrease pathogens in the hospital environment. Room cleaning robots that use ultraviolet (UV)-C radiation kill or inactivate many microorganisms and air sterilizers using UV technology, and negative ions decrease the load of airborne pathogens. Ceiling- or wall-mounted pulsed xenon ultraviolet (PX-UV) light systems can safely and effectively destroy germs in spaces that are frequently occupied. A 2021 study published in BMC Infection Diseases found a strong inverse relationship between the use of pulse xenon ultraviolet light and C. diff. infections in 48 hospitals over a five year period.
Technology that prompts workers to sanitize their hands can also effectively decrease the presence of infectious agents in healthcare environments. Studies have found that verbal reminders are more effective than beeps, buzzes, or flashing lights.
Let’s face it: collecting and analyzing data is not the best use of an IP’s expertise. An article published in the February 2022 edition of the American Journal of Infection Control notes that “Technology can be used to improve the daily routines of infection preventionists.” The authors report on their experience using electronic medical records for symptom surveillance and found that using the EMR allowed them to drastically decrease time spent on data collection. With technology, it took “just over” eight minutes a week to compile a report, compared to seven hours per week via the traditional manual method. The result: more than six “extra” hours per week to spend on higher-level infection prevention tasks.
The right technology makes infection preventionists’ jobs easier and allows them to focus their time, energy, and expertise on initiatives that make hospitals safer for all.