This blog discusses identifying and avoiding unexpected, unhygienic touch points in a hospital ward, as a means of preventing cross-contamination.
In recent years hospital hygiene has come under the spotlight as increasing numbers of people started to better understand the risks of cross-contamination. However, there’s still quite a lot to learn about the importance of good hygiene, the types of infections one can get, and which touchpoints/hotspots within hospitals we need to look out for.
Cross contamination and hygiene practices
I remember when I was a child my parents wouldn’t let me visit loved ones in the hospital. Their rationale was that I was too young to be in the hospital. At first, I found that confusing – especially because as a sickly child I was there fairly often myself.
What I didn’t know was that my parents were trying to protect me from cross-contamination (this is the physical transfer of bacteria or viruses from one person or object to the next) and the illnesses associated with hospitals.
This is where good hygiene practices become important, not only for doctors and patients but also for visitors, because although my parents protected me by preventing me from visiting sick relatives, there was always the risk that they might bring home the very bacteria and viruses that they were trying to protect me from.
Types of infections spread by poor hygiene
It’s been noted by StMarkshospital.org.uk that there are several hospital-acquired infections (HAI’s), the chief of which is MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). MRSA is resistant to antibiotics and much like many infections is commonly acquired by being in contact with infected surfaces, which further stresses the importance of good hygiene.
The other common HAI is Clostridium Difficile, or C. Difficile, which is a bacterium that can be found in the bowels of many people. It can be found even in healthy people, though it’s more prevalent amongst hospital patients. This infection often causes stomach pains, high temperature, nausea, and diarrhea.
It’s worth noting that there are many more HAIs that we haven’t touched on here, many of which can be prevented with good hand hygiene by doctors, patients, and visitors alike.
Hygiene touchpoints in hospitals to look out for
1. Hospital lifts
Hospital lifts are very important as they are often the quickest and in some cases the only way of getting patients transported to different wards within the hospital. However, given that doctors and visitors often use them as well this poses a hygiene risk to users hence we’ve listed it as one of the touchpoints.
Hygiene Tip: For facilities managers, I’d advise that frequent disinfection services be scheduled to ensure that surface bacteria can be addressed and that daily cleaning be implemented to assist in managing the level of surface bacteria present.
For visitors, I’d advise that you wash your hands and sanitize after use. I know you may not wish to hear this having come out of the pandemic but I also advise that you still use your mask to prevent any airborne contamination as well.
2. Hospital restaurants & coffee shops
Quite a lot of hospitals these days have restaurants, cafeterias, or coffee shops where visitors and some patients can go for a coffee or a bite to eat. I personally think it’s a positive way for people to connect while easing the dreary atmosphere that is associated with hospitals. Unfortunately, this opens up quite a number of hygiene hazards, such as patients potentially spreading infections through cross-contamination: food menus, tables and speed point machines are hotspots for surface contamination.
Hygiene Tip: Again it’s important for facilities managers to schedule frequent disinfection services to coincide with daily cleaning, and provide hand sanitizing stations for customers.
For visitors, I’d advise that you ask the waiter if they could sanitize the table before you sit down, and the menus before you use them, as well as ensure that the area is well-ventilated.
3. Computers and electronic devices
We often see doctors and nurses follow great hand hygiene practices, but how often do they sanitise and disinfect their non-medical equipment? Doctors, nurses, and hospital receptionists regularly use computers, telephones, and other electronics and unfortunately these objects are known to harbour bacteria and viruses. Did you know disease-causing pathogens like cold and flu viruses can live on surfaces like keyboards for up to 72 hours?
Hygiene Tip: Scheduling regular Techno Hygiene services, a specialized hygiene treatment that carefully cleans and disinfects electronics, will help greatly in reducing the potential for cross-contamination. Furthermore, I’d advise that doctors, nurses, and reception staff always have a techno hygiene kit for self-cleaning for maintaining the level of hygiene after the services are done.
Other hygiene touchpoints to look out for:
- Hospital gift shops
- Waiting room magazines
- Doctor’s and ward visitor/patient seats
As you can see, there are quite a number of unexpected touchpoints to be aware of. There are also things that both we as visitors and the hospital itself can do to mitigate the dangers of cross-contamination within the hospital. I believe in doing so we may be able to alleviate the anxiety that comes with visiting a hospital.