Whether you call them healthcare-associated infections or hospital-acquired infections, you probably recognize that HAIs represent a significant health threat. According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, about 1 in 25 patients is affected by an HAI. Fortunately, concerted efforts to prevent HAIs can yield positive results. By evaluating, improving, and supplementing your healthcare facility’s disinfection measures, you may be able to reduce HAI risks to your patients, visitors, and healthcare colleagues.

Most Common Healthcare-Associated Infections

Although there are many healthcare-associated infections, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention choose to highlight several common HAIs that occur throughout the United States:

  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Clostridioides difficile (C. difficile)
  • Central Line-Associated Bloodstream Infections (CLABSI)
  • Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI)
  • Surgical Site Infections (SSI)
  • Ventilator-Associated Events (VAE)

Of these six common HAIs, both MRSA and C. difficile may be the most susceptible to spreading throughout healthcare environments due to the wide-ranging interactions of human and portable medical equipment (PME) transmission vectors.

Human HAI Transmission Vectors

Going about your daily activities involves a LOT of touching—accepting a brisk handshake, opening a public restroom door, paying cash for your morning coffee—every interaction is an opportunity to transfer germs.

That’s why it’s not unusual to see hand sanitizer dispensers every 20 feet or so in a healthcare facility. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a valuable tool for reducing and eliminating germs, but it’s not a perfect defense against germs for a variety of reasons:

  • Some germs, such as C. difficile, Cryptosporidium, and norovirus, are more effectively removed by other means.
  • It’s less effective on very dirty or greasy hands.
  • People may apply sanitizer too infrequently or too sparsely, may wipe sanitizer off before it’s dry, or may fail to cover contaminated areas during application.

No matter how diligent you are about washing and sanitizing your hands, factors beyond your knowledge or control, such as unavoidable exposure to unsanitary high-touch areas and coming into contact with inadequately cleaned PME, can increase the risk of spreading HAIs.

Portable Medical Equipment HAI Transmission Vectors

We’ve all seen an empty wheelchair sitting unattended in a hospital hallway or an orphaned IV stand near the nurse’s station, but who knows exactly when these items were last disinfected? Were they thoroughly cleaned, or did they get a cursory wipe-down from someone rushing to the next patient? When are they due for disinfection again? Who’s accountable for disinfecting the equipment?

Portable medical equipment—particularly shared high-touch equipment, such as wheelchairs, workstations on wheels, and vital signs equipment—may come into contact with hundreds of patients and medical practitioners during the course of a week. Every interaction has the potential to transfer pathogens from equipment to people. Even the floors of the facility are part of the loop due to wheeled equipment rolling over contaminated areas.

The mobility that makes PME so useful also makes it dangerous when equipment isn’t adequately cleaned and tracked, and it’s clearly a problem that concerns medical professionals despite their best efforts.

Healthcare Professionals Want Better Disinfection

While each facility has its own protocols for cleaning and tracking PME, designing effective disinfection procedures and monitoring compliance in decentralized systems can be difficult. A study of 48 hospitals and long-term care facilities revealed that “71% of respondents reported a lack of/insufficient system for tracking wheelchair cleaning in their facility and regarded this as a serious problem potentially leading to transmission of AROs and HAIs through inadvertent use of wheelchairs that had not been cleaned and disinfected.” Further, “52% of respondents felt that wheelchair cleaning and disinfection between use by different patients were often omitted or insufficient to reduce the risk of transmission of infection.”

In a survey conducted by UV-Concepts during a live interactive presentation at the 2018 National Association of Healthcare Transport Management (NAHTM) Conference, 78% of respondents indicated that their facility is not addressing the risk of contamination of mobile equipment.

When you consider these statistics in relation to the perpetual quest to mitigate microbial load in healthcare settings, it’s clear that there’s an urgent need to go beyond the typical focus on hand hygiene and whole room cleaning by improving disinfection practices for PME.

Combating and Preventing HAIs

Ultimately, the war against healthcare-associated infections is best fought on multiple fronts to reduce the likelihood of transmitting or contracting HAIs:

  • Establish, monitor, and enforce stringent organization-wide disinfection protocols
  • Practice regular, thorough hand washing with soap and water
  • Apply hand sanitizer frequently
  • Supplement traditional cleaning and manual disinfection with effective, no-touch ultraviolet disinfection
  • Install/upgrade automated disinfection systems to increase efficacy and compliance
  • Adopt real-time tracking and adherence reporting

By taking action to reduce and eliminate healthcare-associated infections, your organization can improve the overall quality of care your patients receive and reduce HAI risks to everyone who walks through your doors.