Despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) remain a significant threat to safety and profitability. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that HAIs “lead to tens of thousands of deaths and cost the U.S. health care system billions of dollars each year.” To achieve maximum efficiency, efforts to provide safe, high-quality healthcare need to be supported by firm commitments to reliable technology-based infection control initiatives.

What is Infection Control in Healthcare?

Infection control involves anything done to prevent the spread of infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) break infection control precautions into two tiers:

  • Standard Precautions for All Patient Care: Used for all patient care and are based on risk assessments. Healthcare providers use common sense and protective equipment to protect themselves and other patients from infection. These precautions include things like hand washing, cough etiquette, proper handling of sharps, etc.
  • Transmission-Based Precautions: Used in addition to Standard Precautions for patients with known or suspected infections. These precautions include appropriate patient placement, using disposable or dedicated patient-care equipment, prioritizing the cleaning and disinfecting of rooms and equipment exposed to infected patients, etc.

Why is Infection Control Important?

Germs are a part of everyday life, but in healthcare settings, the combination of resilient germs and unwell people can be disastrous without effective infection control. Due to the nature of their work, healthcare providers and healthcare facility staff must be keenly observant of rigorous infection control procedures. According to the CDC, “Each year in the U.S., at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection, and more than 35,000 people die.”

Using Healthcare Technology for Consistent and Effective Disinfection

An essential part of any effective infection control strategy is thorough disinfection. Traditional, chemical-based manual cleaning performed by healthcare facility staff eliminates germs, but results can be inconsistent. Variations in physical technique, chemical composition and application, cleaning duration, etc. may be imperceptible to a well-intentioned healthcare worker, but they can still have an adverse effect. For example, the same person cleaning the same wheelchair in the same manner five times will likely achieve five different levels of successful disinfection. A few germs clinging to a missed wheel spoke or nestled under the lip of a seat pad may be more than enough to cause problems.

Supplementing established infection control plans with automated disinfection technology offers additional lines of defense that may eliminate germs that manual procedures miss. The predictable, repeatable results produced by automated disinfection systems, particularly those in controlled environments, can be assessed and optimized to be more effective than manual-chemical disinfection.

A study published in the American Journal of Infection Control revealed that “Manual-chemical disinfection reduced the active microbial burden on sampled objects in-between cases by 52.8%-90.9% (P < .05), while a focused multivector ultraviolet system reduced the active microbial burden by 92%-97.7% (P < .0001).” As this study illustrates, ultraviolet light can be extremely effective at eliminating pathogens under the right conditions and with minimal human intervention.

Better Tracking and Improved Data Sharing Through Technology

The role of medical technology in infection control goes beyond the physical act of destroying germs. Modern networks can be used for detailed tracking and reporting of infection control protocol status and adherence. To monitor the location, chain of custody, and disinfection history of portable medical equipment, items can be retrofitted with networked sensors or scannable ID tags that report to cloud-based software in real time.

With instant access to the history of networked items, healthcare professionals are better equipped to identify, analyze, and address infection control scenarios that need attention. This information has immeasurable value for everyone in a healthcare facility, from the administrator formulating a facility-wide infection control plan to the nurse looking for a clean wheelchair to the patient simply trying to get well. With less time spent on locating patient-ready equipment, healthcare professionals have more time to spend administering quality care.

Fight Infections on Multiple Fronts

As with most things in healthcare, there are many ways to approach infection control. While manual-chemical disinfection tends to be the core of most strategies, technology-based processes, such as automated UV light disinfection and cloud-based process management, can be effective and valuable contributors to better, safer healthcare.