Thanks to efforts at the national, organizational, and personal levels, rates of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) have fallen. But they do continue to plague hospitals, patient care providers, and patients themselves. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of every 31 hospitalized patients has a HAI on any given day. The total cost of HAIs, including direct, indirect, and nonmedical social costs, is estimated between $96 – $147 billion every year.
In response to the continuing struggle against HAIs, the CDC created an HAI Action Plan which incorporates goals for reducing HAIs by 2020. Among others, these goals include reducing catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) by 25%, lowering hospital-onset MRSA infection by 50%, and curtailing the number of hospitalizations related to C. diff by 30%.
How can you, a nurse, help achieve these national goals while also promoting infection prevention among your colleagues, patients, and even hospital visitors? Incorporating several best practices into your own nursing skill set can help reduce rates of HAIs and keep your patients healthier.
It seems like a no-brainer, but proper hand washing is still one of the best methods for preventing the spread of dangerous pathogens throughout the hospital environment. Remember what you learned in nursing school — it isn’t enough to simply scrub your hands under running water.
Many healthcare providers miss their thumbs, fingertips, and the skin between fingers when washing their hands. Additionally, hands should be washed for at least 15 seconds to ensure you remove as many harmful germs as possible. And if soap and water aren’t available immediately, using alcohol-based hand sanitizers helps boost cleanliness.
Recent research indicates that even though rates of HAIs have improved, drug-resistant pathogens, particularly those contaminating the environment, continue to cause serious infections. Many pathogens, like C. diff, MRSA, and Pseudomonas can survive and thrive on environmental surfaces for up to five months…or longer.
Because these germs can endure on surfaces for so long, it’s important to be aware of and take steps to prevent environmental contamination. Factors such as previous room occupancy, choice of materials used for bed linens, and lack of proper storage space for shared medical devices and equipment all contribute to increased rates of HAIs.
Nurses must advocate for evidence-based infection prevention practices in the hospital environment. These may include:
Of all healthcare providers, nurses come in contact with hospital visitors the most. It is therefore essential that nurses engage patient visitors to promote hand hygiene and other infection prevention practices.
While visitors generally trust in the competency of healthcare staff to prevent infection as much as possible, they also typically believe that infection-causing pathogens are everywhere. As such, many visitors may feel like they can only do so much to help prevent infection, since it’s likely a patient will become infected anyway.
Sharing information about hand washing techniques, and encouraging visitors to leave coats, purses, and other personal items outside the patient room can help cut down on disease transmission. Also, educating family and friends about the spread of disease and the importance of staying home if they are sick helps reduce the likelihood of infection.
Infection prevention isn’t something you can do once and forget about. It takes constant effort and vigilance to recognize potential disease vectors and sources of possible contamination. Nurses can help all staff members stay committed with interventions designed to bring greater awareness to the problem. For example, visual methods, like pictures of different areas of the unit, can help staff more easily recognize potential sources of infection. Additionally, frequent and active discussions of infection prevention measures is essential for continued attention to this problem.