With surfaces playing an increasingly critical role in the fight against healthcare acquired infections (HAIs), it is imperative to include soft-surface contamination in the discussion around prevention. While the challenge can seem daunting, there are fundamental steps that can drive the industry in the right direction.
1. Research Is Imperative
Additional research must be done around soft-surface contamination in order for us to understand where microbes exist, what levels of bioburden lead to acquisition and transfer, and how microbes are moving throughout the healthcare environment.
According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, data shows rapid transfer of microbes within the healthcare setting and indicates a need for improved and comprehensive infection control procedures. Research gaps include the need for determining transmission paths of microbes and an understanding of human interaction with surfaces. Given the fact that the 3 feet surrounding a patient’s bed has the highest concentration of bioburden within a hospital, this research must be prioritized accordingly.
2. Healthcare Professionals Must be Educated on the Dangers of Soft Surfaces
In order to effectively address the dangers of soft-surface contamination, buy-in from healthcare professionals on the ground is essential. Because there is little awareness surrounding the issue, the first step will be to define, in simple terms, what “soft surfaces” are and explain how they can become contaminated. With a more thorough understanding of how this problem affects patients and caregivers, healthcare professionals will be more willing to accept new safety protocols, and will place higher priority on soft-surface cleanliness.
3. Comprehensive Protocols and Procedures Must be Developed and Enforced
Establishing a clear roadmap to ensure facility-wide compliance will be crucial for improving infection prevention standards. New protocols and procedures will need to be developed to vet out all materials and products being used within the healthcare environment, since current selection criteria are not comprehensive enough to address soft-surface contamination. When establishing these new criteria, a dedicated team of people with different backgrounds and perspectives should be involved to ensure that everyone’s needs are being met.
Healthcare Surfaces Institute, an organization focused on reducing inconsistencies, stopping fragmentation, and bringing together all areas of expertise to address the foundational issue of surfaces, is currently developing a certification process to do just that. The certification program will fill knowledge gaps and ensure everyone is following the same set of guidelines when it comes to surface cleanliness.
Healthcare Surfaces Institute aims to reduce preventable infections through collaboration of industry, academia, science, regulatory, and service sectors by interrupting the transmission of surface-related pathogens in healthcare in support of community and public health.
Soft surfaces undoubtedly play a key role in mitigating the spread of healthcare acquired infections — but other contributing factors must be addressed as well for optimal results. With the cooperation of the healthcare industry, academia, regulatory and service sectors — it is possible to significantly reduce preventable infections by implementing systematic changes to adequately address surface contamination, and improve both patient and caregiver safety.
Linda Lybert is the Founder and Executive Director of Healthcare Surfaces Institute.