Infection control: Ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

Joe Crowley
Joe Crowley

One of the bigger buzz terms flying around healthcare circles is prevention plans. A cursory google search of “prevention plan” brings back a staggering thirty-nine million results, with the first page boasting everything from fire and accident, to heart attack and stroke prevention plans.

Behind each link, one finds an exhaustive list, usually with check boxes. In all my years working with healthcare professionals, I have yet to meet one that found the secrets to running an efficient and successful community from a series of checkboxes.

Long-term and skilled nursing care, as industries, are always evolving; new regulations and technological breakthroughs happen constantly. Much like the old saying about horses and stable doors - the same goes for prevention plans. You can't expect a generic plan to make a serious impact after a problem is discovered. How can a ready-made plan realistically impact your operation when the issues you face are so unique and specific to your community?

Prevention planning, of course, is a good thing… to a point. A true prevention plan should be viewed more as a metric than a plan. It should be the measuring stick placed alongside your current plan- not a newfound replacement. To truly be preventative, one must become proactive.

For example, being proactive with your infection prevention protocol goes beyond just managing patients when they exhibit signs of illness. Proactive means providing your residents and staff with the right resources to fight outbreaks before infection ever occurs.

The 2014-2015 flu season was a great example of why healthcare communities need proactive infection prevention plans. Between the ineffective vaccines and the aggressive strains moving around, this year was easily one of the worst on record. An infectious outbreak in your community has multiple, severe consequences. First off, the health of your residents and staff is placed in jeopardy. A major outbreak in either of those groups can cripple your operation for months after infection. Second, your reputation could be damaged, making it more difficult to attract new patients.

In 2014, Popular Science published a compelling article about the threats that lurk in our air- things like MRSA, C.Diff, mold, even the flu. This means that standard hand and surface cleaning protocols may not effectively suppress airborne pathogens as they drift around your community. And when your community is made up of immunocompromised individuals, taking the next step, and scrubbing your air becomes essential.

New technologies are available that vary in application- from UV lights to plasma gas, the ability to effectively manage airborne infection has become a reality. If you have large operating-rooms that see a high-volume of patients, making the investment in a UV robot could be a good solution for you. If you are looking to treat and manage the airflow in a community, a plasma-based solution would be the best application.

Plasma-technology can be applied in the presence of patients, whereas UV is suitable only for a closed environment. And while the idea of a futuristic germ fighter is fun (I get it, I just sent this to my wife as a potential birthday/Christmas/anything gift), the reality of the application is bit restrictive (much like a having a fridge that brings you beer).

No matter the route you choose, being proactive and addressing your air will benefit your community. Your staff and residents will be happier, but more importantly, healthier.

Joe Crowley is a freelance infection control specialist.

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