We’ve come a long way in reducing the cases of hospital-acquired infections (HAI) but they haven’t quite become a thing of the past yet. Over the course of the last few years countries in Western Europe, such as the UK and Germany, have noted some significant declines of various hospital-acquired infections…
Yet, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), 4+ million patients are estimated to contract an HAI in Europe each year. Of these, more than 35,000 die as a direct result. Numbers in the U.S. are similarly high, not to speak of the developing world. So what can be done? How can decision makers, such as hospital managers and their staff, reduce hospital infections?
The Cost of HAIs
There probably isn’t a hospital manager in the world who doesn’t realize how important it is to reduce hospital-acquired infections. Not only does this result in better patient care, but hospitals effectively become more profitable and successful. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), financial losses related to HAIs in Europe are as high as €7 billion per year.
1. Education and Good Hospital Culture Save Lives
Educating staff and patients
A central aspect to reducing HAIs is to educate staff and patients and do so consistently. Patients should be provided with guidelines on how to take care of their own hygiene and encouraged to prompt staff do the same. After all, a safe culture is an informed culture.
Promoting changes to behaviour and habits
As for staff, proper sterilization and disinfection techniques and basic good hygiene are crucial, along with an awareness of how and when infections are most likely to occur. As funny as it may sound, one study even found that a simple change in greeting gesture between staff – from a handshake to a fist bump – could reduce HAIs.
Introducing new procedures through specialized workgroups
Beyond national initiatives, hospitals themselves can set up programs to monitor, assess and prevent causes of infections, taking local context into account. So-called infection control committees that draw on the knowledge of a wide range of professionals can devise systematic plans and follow their implementation.
2. Healthcare Technology Solutions That Help Prevent HAIs
With the modern hospital being increasingly driven by technology, naturally there are also tech solutions to reduce hospital infections.
Tech to reduce surgical-site infections (SSI)
What if SSIs could be reduced significantly by surgeons not interrupting surgery in order to view a patient’s data? That would significantly cut down on HAIs, since surgical infections comprise up to 20% of all. Nowadays, instead of leaving the sterile field of the operating room, a surgeon can view a patient’s medical images by interacting with an operating room assistant application. Through gestures and voice commands, surgeons have direct access to all the information they need.
The list of benefits that such solutions offer is significant. They increase the cost-effectiveness of surgeries, as they decrease their duration. They lower the cost of post-surgical treatment because fewer infections occur. They also help staff perform better, because they are less stressed and tired. And finally, they make for better patient care, which is an important factor in how hospitals are faring overall.
Predictive analytics to speed up test results
Beyond the operation room, predictive analytics have also shown potential in preventing HAIs, though most such solutions are still in their development phase. These technologies are meant to help doctors obtain quicker results about bacterial antibiotic resistance in patients. Instead of a few days, developers eventually hope to reduce the waiting time to a few hours. As time is of the essence, such reduction could result in thousands of cases that get treated on time.
Robots that kill bacteria
Finally – robots. Hospitals in Europe and the U.S. have been equipping themselves with robots that clean rooms and destroy harmful bacteria. Unlike robots that clean your house, those that clean hospitals actually get the job done. The two main competing solutions are those that use hydrogen peroxide vapor and those using ultraviolet-C light. While both of these are relatively new and are still proving their worth, the market for such robots is expected to grow to $80 million by 2017. This in itself signals that such technologies hold promise.
3. Changes to Hospital Environment and Organization Can Work Wonders
In a report by WHO on the prevention of HAIs, a whole chapter is dedicated to the proper use and organization of hospital environment. Similarly, in a review of studies, ECDC also identifies hospital organization, management and structure as essential. The review lists ten components which are key to positive changes and reduction of HAIs.
- proper organization of infection control
- bed occupancy, staffing and workload
- availability of materials and equipment
- guidelines, education and training
- surveillance, prevention programs and more
Therefore emphasizing the need for the different hospital departments to work together and ensure that procedures are followed in a coherent way is important. Hospital-wide surveillance programs, for example, help follow and manage infections and outbreaks as they arise. Over time these yield insights into how to address such situations and minimize cases.
And the simple availability of quality materials and equipment can significantly improve healthcare workers’ performance and reduce stress. These factors can significantly contribute to the occurrence or lack of HAIs.
What Worked in Your Hospital?
As a doctor or hospital manager, are you aware of the costs which HAIs have on your hospital and have you been able to measure those? What do you think you could do better? Have you adopted any of the solutions suggested above and have they been successful? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.