We’re meant to view hospitals as places of healing, recovery, and restoration to full health. But what many a visitor to the hospital may forget is this: that the cycle of infection does not stop when one seeks treatment. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but disease can spread quickly within the hospital environment; hospital-acquired infections are specially known by the term nosocomial infections. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 5 to 30% of hospital patients are at risk of developing this kind of infection during their stay—and that, in many cases, such infection is easily preventable in the first place.
Two important factors contribute to disease prevention in the hospital: proper hygiene, and proper sanitation. A clean, safe, and sterilized hospital environment is the best pre-emptive measure against additional health hazards, affording patients a fighting chance at proper recovery from their illnesses.
We can narrow the ideal hospital environment down to three major hygiene and sanitation strategies: (1) cleaning and sterilizing all shared medical equipment for long-lasting use; (2) keeping the general hospital environment clean and free of contaminant waste; and (3) enjoining medical staff and patients to engage in best practices for hygiene and sanitation. Here’s our take on why each strategy matters, as well as some short recommendation points per strategy.
Keeping Life-Saving Tools in Tip-Top Condition
In its handbook for hospital hygiene and infection control, the WHO lists three potential sources of nosocomial infection: hospital patients, hospital personnel, or the hospital’s inanimate environment. The last of these is worth highlighting, as it is the most common transmission route of pathogens, i.e. when an infected patient contaminates an object, instrument, or surface, and another person is infected due to coming into contact with these contaminated items.
That said, it’s the duty of the hospital staff to go about proper cleaning and maintenance of all manual and motor-powered dental, surgical, and diagnostic tools, from simple forceps to the more intricate medical devices with sterilizable motors. These tools demand conscientious upkeep to maximize their service life, and to lessen any threat of surface contamination to patients.
Screening the Hospital Setting from Contaminant Waste
Preventing hospital-acquired illnesses is not only a matter of isolating infected patients from one another; it also encompasses what are referred to as “aseptic” techniques, or techniques that serve to screen against infected or potentially contaminated tissue and environments.
According to the WHO handbook, it should be assumed by both medical personnel and patients that “all objects that come in contact with patients should be considered as potentially contaminated” and dealt with accordingly. All waste that comes into contact with a patient’s bodily fluids and secretions, such as soiled tissues and bandages, must be disposed of properly in a labeled receptacle. All reusable implements, such as pillows, bed sheets, and staff uniforms, must be diligently washed and sterilized.
Advocating best practices among visitors and medical personnel
Lastly, proper sanitation and hygiene must be seen as both necessary and easy to do amongst all those inside of the hospital, from the medical staff and the hospital administrators down to the patients and their individual visitors. Enjoin all those who enter the hospital to unite under one clear message: “Do your part in keeping the hospital clean, safe, and free of infection.”
Some of the methods that are adaptable to all healthcare facilities, regardless of whether they are public or private, are the following: providing easy access to rubbing alcohol, sanitizer, tissue, and face masks; distributing memoranda across hospital departments for urgent compliance; and tacking up attractive and easy-to-understand posters with tips and how-to’s for hand washing, disposal of waste, and other sanitary practices.
If these three strategies are properly executed within the hospital, the road to healing and full recovery of patients will be clear and without hazard. It’s time to put hygiene and sanitation at the forefront of keeping the hospital disease-free.