Blog/ Focus: Infection Control

Sanitizer uses ultraviolet rays to kill viruses on mobile devices

By Matt Mowry / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
May 31, 2019

As the Manager of Infection Control at Montfort Hospital in Ottawa, Josée Shymanski faces a daily challenge in keeping the facility free of quickly-spreading viruses and bacteria. With 289 beds, more than 1,800 employees and 300 physicians, 400 volunteers and 57,000 emergency visits each year, Montfort is one of the most widely-used hospitals in Canada.

Like other hospitals, Shymanski has seen a dramatic rise in the use of mobile devices within the healthcare system. Personal computers, tablets, cell phones and mobile devices of every size and scope are now instrumental in helping healthcare facilities monitor patients, retrieve data and communicate among teams. One study found that in 2016, 70 percent of doctors used mobile devices to manage in-patient data, compared to just 8 percent in 2013.

The rise in the use of mobile devices poses a serious threat, not only at Montfort, but at every hospital. Studies have found that 94 percent of cell phones used by hospital staff bore contaminants. In another report, 89 medical workplace employees were aware mobile phones could be a source of contamination, but only 13 disinfected their phones regularly.

“More and more, mobile devices are being used in health care in the context of patient care,’’ Shymanski said. “For example, we can use these devices for patient teaching, for patients to complete questionnaires or surveys, and to access information on the web. In addition, pretty much everyone has a cellular phone. We know that these devices will become contaminated with germs over time, sometimes with germs that can be harmful. We do not want these devices to become a source of infection for our patients and staff.”

A newly-introduced device can dramatically stop the potential for infection at hospitals, food packaging and processing facilities, biotech manufacturing sites and other facilities that need to reduce the risk of spreading contamination. The CleanSlate UV Sanitizer UV can eradicate 99.9998 percent of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in 20 seconds. The device works on smartphones, tablets, badges and other portable items, does not require any training to use and disinfects without harsh chemicals that can damage electronics.

A growing need

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) are a growing concern in the medical community to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency’s statistics indicate about 1 in 31 hospital patients have at least one healthcare-associated infection. Another study of healthcare workers found three or more bacteria species grew on nearly 21 percent of the cell phones tested.

“About 25 percent of hospital devices are contaminated with pathogenic bacteria,’’ said Manju Anand, Chief Technology Officer for CleanSlate UV. “Yet, staff and visitors wash their hands and then immediately touch these dirty devices. This puts patients and staff at risk and existing chemical solutions have not been an effective tool to solve this challenge.”

Montfort Hospital uses two CleanSlate UV Sanitizers. One is placed beside the hospital’s coffee shop, and another is at a patient care unit. “So many people come to a hospital every day; having this type of machine available for them to use reinforces the message that hygiene is important,’’ Shymanski said. “Combining cleaning your phone with cleaning your hands in one hygiene moment that takes 20 seconds is a good practice for your health. In addition, it shows that as an organization, we value clean care, and hopefully that translates to our patients feeling safe.”

Safe use of UV light

The device utilizes short-wavelength ultraviolet light (UV-C), which destroys nucleic acids and breaks apart germ DNA, preventing them from being able to function or reproduce. UV light won’t harm touchscreens, cameras or IR sensors, and is optimal for hard, non-porous surfaces.

The user deposits the mobile device into the machine, closes a lid and waits 20 seconds for the device to be cleaned. Once completed, the lid opens automatically and the mobile device can then be removed with clean hands. The device can sanitize multiple items at once, and includes RFID-enabled tracking and compliance auditing. The UV-C light does not dry out or degrade materials, which occur with chemical wipes, and can be safely used on a variety of devices with no risk of damage.

Mobile devices are placed on a movable chamber that transports the device into a UV chamber, where the sanitization occurs. After 20 seconds, the device slides out and is ready for use.

A critical component of the product is a sliding chamber that is lubrication- and maintenance-free. The linear guide is made by igus, a Germany-based manufacturer of motion plastics products. The company runs its North American operations out of Providence, R.I. The guides slide, instead of roll, and are cost-effective and highly flexible. They are resistant to dirt and dust due to dry operation, and are typically used in agricultural machinery, vehicle construction, packaging, furniture and robotics.

“During the initial R&D stage, we discovered that the UV lights must be on and warm for effective sanitization in 20 seconds,’’ said Kevin Wright, the Canadian sales manager for igus.

“Since the UV light is dangerous to human skin and eye, we had to design a moving chamber that transports the device into the UV chamber when the sanitization was initiated by the user. It was important to have a bearing system that was extremely quiet, especially in the evening shifts where any noise from the devices can be disturbing to the patients and staff.”

Anand said the company tried steel bearings, but they fell far short of their expected service life and required lubricants, which could not be used in a healthcare facility.

“Reliability was utmost, as any downtime due to device breakdown would result in ineffective sanitization of mobile devices using chemical wipes, which could damage or degrade the electronic devices used in hospitals,’’ Anand said.

“UV light is being incorporated in different types of technologies for the purpose of disinfection,’’ Shymanski said. “Using UV light to target mobile device disinfection filled a need that existed and which will continue to exist as we move more and more towards electronic technologies in health care.”

Gaining acceptance

More than 40 hospital systems, biotech companies and food processes in the United States, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong are using UV sanitizers to control the spread of pathogens in their facilities.

As mobile technology evolves and explodes, it is going to become increasingly important for healthcare facilities, in particular, to find cost-efficient, reliable and quick solutions to keep patients and workers safe from HAIs.

“We were pleased to see that many patients, staff and visitors are cleaning their cell phones and mobile devices on a regular basis, when [the device] is located in convenient areas such as the hospital main lobby or while they are waiting to order a coffee,” said Heather Candon, Manager of Infection Prevention and Control at Mackenzie Health in Ontario. “This is a good habit to practice all year-round, but even more so during flu seasons. Allowing patients and families to sanitize these items on the way into the hospital potentially prevents germs and viruses that can make already sick patients, even sicker.”

Matt Mowry is the DryLin Product Manager for igus North America.

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