How many times have you heard about someone entering the hospital healthy, or relatively so, and developing a dangerous infection while hospitalized? What about the number of times that you may have visited your own doctor’s office or your child’s pediatrician’s office and wondered whether the cold you got a few days later was coincidence or the result of having been in the waiting and exam rooms following other sick patients? Have you ever considered what cleaning procedures are done in hospital rooms when one patient is discharged before another takes their place?
In the past, Brian Nash and the other legal bloggers here at Eye Opener have written posts and made mention of the importance of hospital cleanliness and sterility, see the related posts below. We have been involved in cases involving the devastating results of infections. However, everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.
Well, there is news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two recent articles have focused on seemingly simple solutions, copper and duct tape, that may have major impacts on infection control.
Copper Surfaces Dramatically Reduce Infections by Killing Bacteria
A Reuters’ article reports that a recent study “presented at the World Health Organization’s 1st International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control (ICPIC) in Geneva, Switzerland” shows that “replacing the most heavily contaminated touch surfaces in ICUs with antimicrobial copper will control bacteria growth and cut down on infection rates.” According to the Reuters’ article:
[a]ntimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units (ICU) kill 97 percent of bacteria that can cause hospital-acquired infections, according to preliminary results of a multisite clinical trial in the United States. The results also showed a 40 percent reduction in the risk of acquiring an infection.
This news could have a profound impact on health-care costs, disease spread, and most importantly lives lost. If hospitals are able to replace some of their current surfaces with copper surfaces, at least in the parts of the hospital that are most frequently the source of infections, there could be a dramatic improvement in hospital-acquired infections.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, strokes and cancer.
According to estimates provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in every 20 hospitalized U.S. patients acquires an HAI, resulting in 100,000 lives lost each year.
Perhaps even more infections could be prevented if these changes could be made outside of just ICUs. For instance, perhaps copper surfaces could replace highly touched surfaces on sink handles, the doors to hospital rooms, hospital bed rails, or in out-patient surgery centers and long-term care facilities that are not housed within hospitals.
Duct Tape Warnings Keep Others Far Enough Away from Infected Patients
An article from Medicalnewstoday reports that some hospitals are using plain duct tape – just colored red – to achieve a reduction in infection rates from highly infectious patients without having to deal with the hassle and expense of all visitors or hospital personnel who enter the room having to rescrub and use new gowns every time they enter the room of an infected patient. The study looked at highly infectious diseases like C. diff that require isolation of patients and very careful hand washing to avoid spreading the infection. So how does duct tape help?
The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) commissioned a study to corner off a three foot perimeter around the bed of patients in isolation. Medical personnel could enter the room unprotected if they stayed outside the perimeter. Direct patient contact or presence inside the perimeter meant a redo of the cleansing process. The concept, called “Red Box” employs red duct tape, a color used as it provides a strong visual reminder to those who enter the room to be aware.
The study found that 33% of all who entered the rooms could do so without the addition of gowns and gloves, saving the environment, hospital and patient costs, and time without compromising the patient or the medical personnel.
How Else Can We Reduce Infections?
What ideas do you have for the use of copper surfaces? Do you think that copper surfaces or duct tape could make a dramatic difference in the safety of hospital admission? What about the cost? Do you think that hospitals would pay the upfront costs of replacing surfaces with copper to be able to dramatically cut infection rates? What about other low cost solutions like duct-tape around the perimeter of the bed? Can you think of other low-cost solutions that could minimize infections and maximize safety?