The Centers for Disease Control says it’s the heart of flu season, which means when someone infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or even talks, they’re at risk of spreading the flu. While the timing and duration of flu season differs each year, the CDC says it typically starts in the fall and goes through the winter months.
Along with getting the vaccine, it’s important to regularly and thoroughly wash our hands to prevent contracting or spreading the flu. But we also need to focus on what we’re holding in our hands that could be carrying and sharing the virus.
The CDC says the virus can also spread when a person comes in contact with an infected surface and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes. This is important to remember if your hospital uses tablets – or is thinking about implementing them – in Registration or the clinical care setting.
The Microsoft Surface, Amazon Fire, Apple iPad and other tablets play an important part in eliminating the risk of lost or missing paper hospital forms. But these devices are also swiped, tapped and held by clinicians, patients and staff members, which means they can quickly become contaminated with germs.
Infection risks beyond flu season
As those in the health care field know, though, flu season isn’t the only time that patients are at-risk for contracting an infection. Health care associated infections, or HAIs, happen when a patient is in the hospital for one condition and contracts an infection during their stay.
HAIs are a major cause of illness and lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control, there were approximately 687,000 HAIs in U.S. hospitals in 2015. Of these, about 72,000 patients died during their hospitalizations.
HAIs are caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses stemming from among other things, health care settings that aren’t properly cleaned and disinfected. Communicable diseases can also be passed between patients and hospital staff.
On any given day, the CDC says about 1 in 31 patients has at least one HAI. While most would agree that this rate is far too high, research shows the risk is actually declining. A 2015 study found patients that year were 16 percent less likely to contract an HAI than patients who participated in a similar survey in 2011.
UV lights hinder HAIs
One way hospitals are combating HAIs is with ultraviolet disinfection technology. When coupled with manual cleaning protocols, UV light is proven to help reduce the rate of infections in hospitals. A Duke University study found using UV light helped eliminate four major super bugs by 30 percent. Another study found that the use of UV technology eliminated nearly 98 percent of pathogens in the OR.
The UV tools available to hospitals range from mobile light towers that can disinfect entire patient rooms, to wall-mounted units, and handheld devices that are best for sterilizing surfaces – like tablets. UV technology is effective because the light can access hard-to-reach places where germs exist such as open drawers, cabinets or fixtures.
A handle on sanitization
Recently, we’ve posted articles and a video designed to help hospitals find the best tablet and accessories for their Registration and clinical departments. We’ve shared the first-hand experience of Parkview Medical Center and the best practices the hospital gleaned as it implemented the devices for mobile forms and paperless Informed Consents.
An important takeaway PMC learned related to tablet handles and the spread of germs. The devices used by clinicians and staff in the Colorado hospital originally had a Velcro strap on the back, like the one shown below. The strap is intended to make it easier for users to hold the device.
But what the Velcro provided in ease of use, it lacked for in prevention. PMC clinicians and staff members found it hard to keep the fabric handle sanitized, putting everyone who touched the tablet at-risk of contracting and spreading germs.
Using UV light could have been part of the hospital’s solution but instead, the provider opted to switch to a plastic handle like the one pictured. While the new handle isn’t flexible like Velcro, it does provide the same functionality and perhaps more importantly, the benefit of being easy to sanitize.
Tablets play an important role on the path to paperless forms. But to fight the spread of infection, remember to pick device accessories that can be easily disinfected and tools like UV lights to help you sanitize. Don’t let these devices become virus vehicles that spread the flu or HAIs to your patients and staff.