7 Best Practices for Hospital Infection Control

Arthur Trapotsis
Written by: Arthur Trapotsis

MS Biochemical Engineering, MBA, Consultant

In the fight against infection, healthcare facilities have many preventative measures at their disposal. Together, these best practices form an infection control policy that aims to create safe environments in which patients can heal and recover after surgeries and other procedures.

Read on to find out what they are and why each is important.

What Is Infection Control in Healthcare & Why Is It Important?

The CDC boils it down best: “Infection control prevents or stops the spread of infections in healthcare settings.” This back-to-basics definition offers a good summation of what infection control is, but what does it entail? For healthcare facilities, there are many ways to keep infection rates low. Following strict hand hygiene protocols and vigilantly disinfecting surfaces are only a couple of the effective methods used to prevent infections — more on the rest later.

Additionally, creating an environment that promotes patient safety is a top priority at hospitals and ASCs, and infection control plays an integral part in this mission. Keeping infection rates low promotes better outcomes, speedy recoveries, and helps prevent avoidable deaths.

Understanding the Chain of Infection

For the best chance of preventing infections, it’s important to understand how they occur and spread. The chain of infection describes the circumstances under which infections are most likely to be transmitted in a medical environment and is made up of six stages, or links.

  1. It all starts with the presence of an infectious agent, typically a harmful microorganism.
  2. Vectors, which can be anything from water and dirty equipment to people, carry the agent throughout the environment.
  3. The infectious agent then leaves the vector through the portal of exit. For a human vector, this includes coughing and sneezing.
  4. The mode of transmission describes how an infection is passed between individuals. In healthcare settings, this typically occurs via direct (person-to-person) or indirect (person-to-intermediary-to-person) contact.
  5. The portal of entry is where the agent enters the body of a new host. Open wounds, tubing (such as catheters), and mucous membranes are all common portals of entry.
  6. The last chain is the infection of the new host. Factors like age, whether a person is immunocompromised, whether they have a chronic illness, and being a hospitalized patient all increase the risk of infection.

Each of these links presents an opportunity to break the chain of infection, and following best practices for infection control can help hospitals and ASCs do exactly that.

7 Best Practices for Hospital Infection Control

Some best practices that Hospitals and ASCs should follow to prevent infection are:

Following Hand Hygiene Protocols

This is one of the simplest ways that healthcare providers can help prevent the spread of infection. Guidance from the CDC recommends thoroughly washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer:

  • Prior to touching a patient
  • Before a procedure
  • When hands are visibly soiled
  • After coming into contact with bodily fluids
  • After touching a patient
  • After coming into contact with an object in the environment

Practicing Proper Patient Cohorting

Keeping patients with similar infections grouped together and separate from other groups of susceptible patients goes a long way toward lowering the risk of infection transmission. In a study of cystic fibrosis patients, researchers found that applying this practice in conjunction with proper hygiene leads to a decrease in chronic infection rates among patients.

Coordinating Care

Good pre- and post-operative care involves constant communication. It’s never safe to assume that the necessary protocols have been carried out by a clinician on a different care team. If in doubt, always ask.

Disinfecting Surfaces

Contaminated surfaces — even dry ones — contribute to the spread of nosocomial infections. This is why it’s crucial to continuously disinfect frequently touched objects (door knobs, tables, sinks, etc.) in high-risk areas. For hospitals and ASCs, these include:

  • Waiting rooms
  • Bathrooms
  • Treatment rooms
  • Operating rooms

Paying Strict Attention to Instrument Processing

After surgery, it’s crucial that the tools and devices used are made safe for use on the next patient. This practice, known as sterile processing, ensures that instruments are meticulously cleaned and sterilized according to an exacting set of standards and guidelines.

Sticking to a Vaccination Schedule for Staff

Every patient interaction presents a possibility for infection. And for medical staff who come into contact with several patients each day, staying current on vaccines helps limit the transmission of disease.

Wearing Scrubs & Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE — such as gloves, hair covers, and shoe covers (or dedicated shoes) — is worn to keep external pathogens out of the care environment. The protective layer that it provides also acts as a barrier between medical staff and patients, and when changed correctly can limit the transmission of infectious material.

What Part Do Autoclaves Play in Hospital Infection Control?

Frequently, sterilization is the last step in ensuring that reusable surgical instruments are safe to use in upcoming procedures. While many sterilization methods exist, steam sterilization is the most common type used in the medical field today — with alternatives only being sought out for materials that can’t tolerate extreme temperatures.

The process takes place in FDA-cleared machines called autoclaves, and relies on moisture, heat, and pressure to kill any harmful microorganisms that remain on devices after decontamination. The benefits of modern autoclaving technology are many, as it assures the highest level of sterility all while getting the job done in a fast, efficient, and cost-effective way.

Is Your Healthcare Facility on The Right Track?

Steam sterilization technology plays an important role in infection control and providing comprehensive patient care. Ready to put your ASC sterilization setup to the test? Take our free self-assessment to see whether your current setup sufficiently meets your needs.

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