How to Boost Infection Prevention in Healthcare Facilities
Industrialized construction supports a multi-layered approach to infection prevention and control
It’s time to talk about… germs. (Sidenote: have you sanitized your smartphone recently?)
The COVID-19 pandemic made us all much more concerned with limiting the spread of infections. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently published its first-ever report analyzing infection prevention and control (IPC) programs in healthcare settings globally.
While many of the recommendations discussed are related to behavior — such as hand hygiene and patient screening — some also focus on how the built environment can help reduce the spread of infectious diseases. “Patient care activities should be undertaken in a clean and hygienic environment that facilitates practices related to the prevention and control of HAI [healthcare-associated infections],” says the report.
Hospitals and clinics need to be ready to handle the next global health crisis, as well as ongoing challenges, such as an aging population. But, as with so many other industries, there’s also a labor concern.
As the current cohort of infection prevention specialists age out of the workforce, “there’s going to be an impact on the skill set in hospitals,” explains Chris Burke, director of segment strategy and execution at DIRTT, an advanced industrialized construction system.
A multifaceted, but standardized approach to infection prevention including both behavioral changes and upgraded built environments is key to prepping for the future healthcare needs, he says.
Prevention (with layers of protection) is the best cure
“You're seeing this layering of multiple best practices in hospital environments to get the outcomes they want — to start to reduce hospital acquired infections, and increase infection prevention,” says Burke.
The healthcare-associated infections he references are dangerous and costly. The WHO report notes that “out of 100 patients hospitalized, seven will be infected with an HAI” — but 70% of them can be prevented with an increase in effective IPC interventions. And, since HAIs are often caused by multidrug-resistant organisms, prevention is the preferred medicine.
One of many prevention layers hospitals are adopting is enhanced monitoring, says Burke. Visual inspections are often insufficient and a surface may appear spotless, while hiding pathogens invisible to the human eye.
Solutions include marking surfaces with fluorescent gel pens, which are still visible under UV lights if traces remain after scrubbing. If gel streaks appear post-cleaning, perhaps more sinister germs still lurk there.
Other tactics are more advanced, such as ultraviolet-C (UVC) light, which destroys bacteria at certain radiation wavelengths. HPV decontamination — hydrogen peroxide in the vaporized form — also damages microorganisms.
Beyond updated protocols and enhanced cleaning solutions, IPC programs benefit from updates to the way healthcare environments are built.
Embed infection prevention in the built environment
Industrialized construction is particularly well-suited to supporting infection prevention.
For instance, modular construction systems like DIRTT offer special finishes for manufactured surfaces. They’re designed to stand up to bleach and other disinfectants, increasing durability while enabling better cleaning practices.
Thermofoil, which Burke calls a “workhorse finish in the healthcare space,” is a heat-applied laminate that can be layered and vacuum sealed over substrate, without the germ-catching gaps left by traditional laminates. It’s also easier to clean than standard surfaces.
In addition to materials and surfaces that enhance day-to-day IPC, an industrialized construction approach also benefits changes or renovations in healthcare environments, says Burke.
Modular systems are “designed for disassembly,” he explains, making the process of adapting a space (a common requirement in healthcare) faster, cleaner and even quieter.
Take modular walls, for instance. They feature a framing layer, a utility layer, and then the finish layers, which can all be removed and accessed separately, either for cleaning or easy retrofitting.
“The system reduces the need for HEPA filtration, for tarping off a space, and reduces the exposure of patients and caregivers to the particulates and dust from a typical renovation project.” Cutting the time spent on renovations also minimizes disruptions and the chance of spreading infection during maintenance.
Modular environments can also be converted to, or built as, negative or positive pressure rooms, which helps reduce air leakage and thus the spread of contaminants. The spaces are outfitted with gasket systems that better control air flow in and out of the rooms. Those same gaskets create a seal that prevents bacteria from entering into and breeding within the wall cavity.
This containment or release of air is necessary for disease units, labs, and other medical settings where dangerous particles are present.
Looking ahead to future IPC innovations, “there's a huge movement to bring touchless technology into healthcare environments,” Burke says. Again, emerging infection prevention options like these are enabled by easy-to-update industrialized construction systems, which make it simple to add voice activation and other controls to monitors that are already on-site.
“This behavioral component of modular is really a game changer when creating spaces in a healthcare environment, allowing them to adapt and change over time to whatever that future unknown need will be.”
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