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How hospitals can spot, reduce healthcare-associated infections

Photo Credit: Peshkova/iStock Photo

Every hospital will endeavor to save their patients’ lives and help them on the road to recovery at the fastest possible rate. However, it is more than possible that a patient could catch an infection when receiving care at a healthcare facility.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAI), also known as nosocomial infections, can cause health complications, a longer hospital stay, a lengthy recovery time, and additional medical fees. A hospital has a responsibility to minimize this as much as possible. Fortunately, there are steps a hospital can take to improve patient care and prevent HAIs.

Identify HAI Vulnerabilities

While every patient admitted to a hospital could contract a healthcare-associated infection, some people will have an increased risk. It is important for healthcare practitioners to monitor the following patients for HAI risks and symptoms:

  • Premature babies
  • Elderly people
  • Frail patients
  • Very sick children
  • Patients with low immunity
  • People living with chronic conditions, such as diabetes

People who are very sick or undergone surgery will also need to be monitored for healthcare-associated infections.

Understand Risk Factors

While almost every healthcare practitioner will understand the various infection risk factors, it never hurts for a hospital to keep the vulnerabilities in their employees’ minds.

Highlight the following HAI risk factors across a facility:

  • Surgical procedures – the procedure and its length will determine a patient’s risk.
  • A long hospital stay.
  • Hand hygiene techniques – poor practices by staff and patients can increase risk.
  • Non-intact skin – the infection risk will be higher for those with surgical incisions, wounds, ulcers, and burns.
  • Invasive procedures – such as urinary catheters, drain tubes, IV cannulas, and respiratory equipment.

Patients with the above issues must be monitored by staff to prevent an unwanted infection, which could increase their stay, slow down their recovery, and cause additional health issues.

There are also various types of infections staff must be aware of, such as:

Many of the above infections can be resolved with antibiotics. Yet, patients could be resistant to standard antibiotics, and some infections can be life-threatening, such as MRSA, VRE, and CPE infections, which are known as superbugs.

Infection Control

According to the CDC, one in 31 hospital patients will develop a minimum of one healthcare-associated infection every day. Infections can also spread fast, as billions of virus particles could be released into the air. It’s for this reason why healthcare practitioners and support staff must aim to identify and treat infected patients as soon as possible.

Every hospital must have a strict infection control policy in place, which should provide information on the patients who will have the biggest risks of both contracting and passing on a healthcare-associated infection. Plus, it should provide details on various isolation precautions to take and how to limit contact with other patients and employees.

There are essential precautions for all employees to take to reduce the development and spread of an infection, such as:

  • Adhering to standard sterile techniques when treating wounds, performing surgical procedures, and inserting medical devices such as urinary catheters and cannulas.
  • Cleaning the equipment and medical environment.
  • Appropriately using antibiotics.

Every hospital must also both monitor and measure infection prevention methods to identify a department’s strengths and weaknesses.

An Infection Control Committee

In addition to creating infection control policies, a hospital should have an infection control committee in place, which will encourage departments to collaborate and share information.

The committee should include representation from the following departments:

  • Hospital management
  • Physicians
  • Healthcare staff
  • Microbiology
  • Maintenance
  • Pharmacy
  • Housekeeping
  • Central supply
  • Training providers

By forming a committee, swift action can be taken in the event of an infection outbreak at a hospital. What’s more, they must meet annually to discuss both infection surveillance and prevention, to review internal infection data, and to assess practices, procedures, and training.

Patient Education

While medical practitioners and support staff can take the steps to avoid a healthcare-associated infection, patients and visitors can increase their likelihood of developing an infection.

Education is imperative for preventing an infection from developing, which can lead to shorter hospital stays and fewer health complications. For example, both patients and visitors should understand the following tactics for decreasing their susceptibility to infection:

Wash Hands

Every hospital should encourage patients and visitors to wash their hands by introducing hand sanitizing stations in every hall and department. Alternatively, they should be encouraged to wash their hands with soap and water. Practitioners must also wash their hands both before and after seeing each patient.

Avoid Facial Touching

It is believed people touch their faces an average of 15 times per hour. This can cause a harmful bug to spread from a person’s hands to their nose and mouth, which can increase their risk of an infection, such as a cold or diarrhea.

Cover Mouth When Coughing or Sneezing

The Covid-19 pandemic has taught the public the importance of covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing, which can prevent airborne viruses from spreading to others. The same rule will also apply to healthcare-acquired infections, so patients should be encouraged to practice good personal hygiene. For instance, they should cover their mouth with their arm, a tissue, a sleeve or the crook of their elbow rather than using their bare hands.

Pre-Stay Precautions

If a patient is scheduled to stay in a hospital for a procedure or treatment, a healthcare practitioner should provide advice on the steps they can take to reduce their risk of infection, such as:

  • Stopping smoking – it can slow down or interfere with the healing process and increase the risk of a chest infection.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight – overweight patients are more likely to develop an infection.
  • Manage diabetes – maintain blood sugar levels.
  • Inform a doctor of a recent illness – the flu or a cold could increase the risk of a chest infection.

Visiting Patients with Illnesses Must Remain Home

A visitor might not think twice about visiting a hospital when they have a cold or a bug, but they could cause infections to spread across a facility. Visiting patients who have a bug must remain at home. If not, they must be encouraged to cover their mouth when sneezing and should avoid touching surfaces.

Identify the Signs of Infection

While medical staff will do their best to spot any symptoms of infection, practitioners should inform patients of possible signs. For example, if a patient has received a cannula, they should inform a nurse if the needle site is red, painful, leaking, or swollen. They also should inform staff if their dressings are not dry, clean or attached to a wound, or if a catheter or drain feels misplaced.

Hire Knowledgeable Nurses

Every hospital should hire qualified family nurse practitioners, as they will develop preventative strategies to improve patient health and decrease their risk of disease. It is their job to promote safe care to vulnerable patients, as well as hospital visitors. Plus, they will be able to treat various acute illnesses, such as urinary tract infections, respiratory infections, and rashes, to name only a few. For instance, if a family nurse practitioner is treating a confused elderly patient, they might order a urine analysis to identify if it is caused by an acute, reversible illness.

If a hospital is lacking qualified family nurse practitioners, they should encourage their registered nurses to gain extra qualifications to become an FNP. For example, they could enroll in one of the best online MSN-FNP programs to gain advanced nursing skills and improve healthcare standards.

Test for Infections

There are many highly contagious infections that healthcare staff should aim to identify as soon as humanely possible. For instance, if a patient develops diarrhea, they should receive a test for Clostridium difficile (c. diff) right away. Also, if a patient admitted into a hospital has a respiratory problem, they should receive a test for the flu.

If a patient is found to have one of the above infections, they should be moved to a single room with a bathroom, and all hospital staff must wear gloves and gowns when treating the patient.

Provide Isolation PPE

Every hospital worker must take the steps to stop the spread of a disease or infection. While moving a patient to a separate room could help a facility to take control of an issue, they also must provide isolation appropriate PPE, especially if a patient has a contagious illness, such as the flu or another virus. For example, a hospital should have:

  • Masks
  • Face shields
  • Shoe covers
  • Waterproof gowns
  • Gloves

It could prevent the contagion from spreading to other patients, which could cause further health complications and place greater pressure on a hospital’s staff and resources. It is also crucial infectious patients are treated away from those most vulnerable to an infection, such as the elderly or premature babies.

Healthcare Worker Precautions

It is not only patients who have a risk of infection in a hospital. According to OSHA, 385,000 hospital employees are pricked by sharp objects every year, which could vary from unsafe needles and other sharp objects. While their risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C or another disease is low, it is still essential for staff to take precautions.

For example, they could avoid an injury and, in turn, an infection by:

  • Recapping every needle after use
  • Using standardized, blunt needles
  • Properly handling needles
  • Keep needle containers nearby
  • Immediately discard contaminated sharp objects

Change Linens Daily

Every hospital must ensure that linens are changed daily or whenever dirty, and they must be effectively sanitized. They also should never be placed on a patient bed for a prolonged period. If linen falls on the floor, staff must send it to laundry to be cleaned for another patient.

Ban Barefoot Walks

While a patient will not want to wear shoes when they are ill, they must be discouraged from walking barefoot, which could increase their contact with various pathogens that can spread from room to room. Instead, hospitals must recommend that patients wear either non-slip socks or slippers when walking around their rooms or throughout the hospital.

Disinfect Every Surface

Every hospital room must be deep cleaned with a bleach-containing cleanser between patients. This can create a sanitary environment and reduce the accidental spread of infection or diseases for new patients. It is also imperative to clean non-patient areas every day, such as nurses’ stations and employee breakrooms.

Store Food at the Correct Temperature

The temperature of refrigerators must be checked on every shift in hospitals and medical facilities to maintain food safety. Patients should also eat their meals once they arrive at their beds. If it is not consumed after several hours, it must be placed in the trash to avoid spoilage and the development of an infection.

Wear Gloves When Appropriate

It is not always necessary for doctors, nurses, and support staff to wear gloves when talking to patients. However, they must do so if they will have contact with any bodily fluids or blood. For example, they might be exposed to fluids or blood when tending to wounds, emptying trash, or changing bed linen.


A nosocomial infection can affect people in both developed and developing countries across the world. Unfortunately, healthcare-associated infections are one of the major causes of death for hospitalized patients, which is due to many factors that could cause the complication. For instance, a patient is more likely to develop an HAI if they have decreased immunity, undergone an invasive procedure, or contracted a drug-resistant bacterium.

Every hospital employee has a responsibility to stop infections in their tracks, from physicians and nurses to housekeeping, laundry, and food service. Staff must routinely familiarize themselves with the various infection risks, precautions, and symptoms, which can help them to immediately diagnose, prevent, and treat an infection.

While changing laundry daily, regularly washing hands, and disinfecting surfaces can prevent an infection from developing, patients also have a part to play in decreasing their risk. It is imperative for hospitals to improve their education, such as attending a hospital appointment in good health, understanding infection symptoms, and covering their mouth when coughing and sneezing.

augusta free press
augusta free press