The Frequency of Touch in Hospitals
High-touch surfaces. This is a phrase that gets thrown around quite a lot in the world of healthcare, but we are rarely told how many touches are considered “high-touch.” The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America offered this answer to the question in a report titled “A Quantitative Approach to Defining ‘High-Touch’ Surfaces in Hospitals.”
What is a High-Touch Surface?
High-touch surfaces are surfaces that are handled many times throughout the day by various users. Researchers observed 50 interactions between healthcare workers and patients in 5 Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and 7 general medical-surgical floors. Their observations led them to the revelation of the top 5 high-touch surfaces in both areas:
- Bed rails
- Bed surface
- Supply cart
- Over-bed table
- Intravenous pump
The presence of pathogens on surfaces has a connection to patient-to-patient transmission of bacteria, some of which have the ability linger on surfaces for weeks and up to several months. Common pathogens capable of being transmitted to and from surfaces are:
- Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
- Acinetobacter baumannii
- Escherichia coli
- Pseudomonas aeruginosa
According to the report, less than 50% of these high-touch surfaces are cleaned terminally (after a patient is moved or discharged), clearly increasing the risk of pathogen transfer. The study suggests that disinfection routines should be practiced more often with the use of check-lists, more staff training, and monitoring high-touch surfaces to lessen the chance of hand-contamination.
However, disinfection of other high-touch tools such as the mobile device, are often overlooked. The presence of mobile devices, like tablets, in hospitals and clinics has significantly increased in the past few years. They allow doctors and nurses to engage with patients on a whole different level to make communication easier and take the pain out of medical record keeping. Since these devices are often used by multiple people, they harbor bacteria and have the potential to spread infectious illnesses. Mobile devices like other high-touch surfaces have to undergo a disinfection regimen as well. A variety of new technologies have been developed to automate the disinfection process and reduce the time burden of current chemical methods which are challenging to integrate into workflows. There are even mobile apps that remind users when it’s time to disinfect, how to disinfect, and compliance reporting on the rate of disinfection. Regardless of whether you prefer to utilize these technologies, the disinfection of the roaming high-touch surfaces of mobile devices should be a staple in defining modern day hospital workflows.
About the Author
Miller, M.S., Cortney, Angela Fraser, Ph.D., and Ashley Rivers, M.A. "Cleaning and Disinfecting High-Touch Surfaces." . Department of Food, Nutrition, and Packaging Sciences, Clemson University, Clemson, SC , 1 June 2012.<http://www.fightbac.org/storage/documents/SA3._Cleaning_High-Touch_Surfaces.pdf>.
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